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As We See It

A Thanksgiving to remember: Tales of awkward escapes and surprise feasts

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Memorable meals are about more than the turkey—or Tofurkey.
Molly O'Donnell, Jason Harris

There were no vegans in Colonial America

An anthemic drum roll beat in my ear before the loud, high-pitched fifing began. Only an hour ago we were so excited to hear the fifing that it had seemed like an elusive siren. Now it was becoming irritating, as if the marching band in three-cornered hats and knee-breeches was waiting around every turn like a group of predatory mariachis at a Cancun resort. Maybe Colonial Williamsburg wasn’t the best destination for a first romantic getaway, especially on Thanksgiving.

It had largely been his idea. Instead of spending a bloated and bored day downing wine at one of our parents’ houses—or worse, both—we’d escape together. This way, we’d avoid all that awkward dinner table chatter, like, “So, where did you two meet?” and the more awkward reply: “In a bar … while drinking.”

The plan was a good one: three glorious nights of old timey reenactments, snack food, and festive open-air fires. Neither of us had been to Williamsburg since we were kids, so our expectations were flying high, fueled by the pure elixir of nostalgia. We hopped into a rental car on an icy, gray November day and drove the three-plus hours south from Baltimore to a land frozen in time.

For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of visiting Colonial Williamsburg, the town operates like a real English settlement of mid- to late-18th century America. There are men in tights and women in bonnets on every corner. The town apothecary mixes batches of period “medicine,” while staged battles take place in the street to the rhythm of the blacksmith’s iron hammer. A pass to the town gives you access to wander into state buildings and get tours from tweedy historians made tweedier by also donning period costume. Still, it’s a fairly comfortable representation. Nobody wants to catch cholera or give up their contact lenses just to experience the real deal.

Since it was a family holiday, we seemed to be largely alone in Revolutionary America. This was especially true at night, when torches illuminated the drum and fife players who seemed to be at it for hours (were they robots?), frost sparkled on the trees and the little shop windows lit up like Christmas. Actually, the whole place seemed to be gearing up for Christmas—Williamsburg high season—and the chilly, frolicking magic of the place was putting us in a trance.

Slowly, however, the spell wore off. None of the restaurants had vegan options, which, as a waiter with a Bluetooth in his ear explained, was because there were no vegans in the colonies. Living off the Peanut Shop (inexplicably not spelled “Shoppe”) was making me yearn for the comforts of home—or at least the comforts of Tofurkey. And blowing off our families to spend the holiday with someone we were still getting to know suddenly felt strange.

“Does he think this tour guide is as ridiculous as I do?” I wondered. “Is he seriously this interested in candle-making?”

Thankfully, my fretting was short-lived. His similarly sardonic sense of humor became apparent when we both failed to suppress a giggle at some wig slippage and the less than terrifying night of ghost stories as told by a crotchety pirate. We even added bonus stops at our parents’ houses on the way home.

Now, five years later and married, when we get our annual Williamsburg promotional calendar in the mail and letter asking us to spend another Thanksgiving in the land that time forgot, we just laugh. All that weekend awkwardness melted with the frost. The intervening years didn’t hurt, either. –Molly O'Donnell

Dinner with Dad

When you think of Thanksgiving, you probably think of big family gatherings. But one of my favorite Thanksgivings was the smallest I’ve ever attended.

I was living with my dad at the time. I always said he was my favorite roommate, but the truth is, he took care of me long after he needed to. We had gone shopping earlier in the week and picked up a lone turkey breast. He’s a vegetarian and since it was just me eating the bird, there was no need for more.

I’ve always worked on holidays, and I was working on the Strip that year. I specifically took the day shift so I could be home for our simple meal and also because I’d be able to maximize my football-watching couch time.

I left for work figuring I’d come home to a turkey breast, some mashed potatoes and a quiet night with Dad. But when I got home, the apartment smelled wonderful. It was full of different aromas. There was Dad standing over the stove, each burner with a different pan on it, each pan holding a different dish he was making. In the oven, more homemade delights. He looked at me and said something like, “I couldn’t not do Thanksgiving.”

What I thought would be a simple dinner turned out to be a Thanksgiving feast for two that could have fed 10. Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus amandine, stuffing, cranberry sauce—all for the two of us!

My dad always loves surprising me and I love his surprises. That Thanksgiving night surprise was one of his best. –Jason Harris

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