What I remember most about Thanksgiving is having a school assignment that was due the day after Thanksgiving break. Why do they make things due the day after Thanksgiving break?
Like the time in fifth grade, I had to write an “report” on Ferdinand Magellan. I’d done nothing for weeks, thinking, “Oh, December first, that’s like forever away.” Then that Sunday after Thanksgiving, when I and my brother are still eating pumpkin pie for breakfast, I realize in a panic that the report is due, that I don’t have any books on the subject, and that our library branch is closed. To appreciate this scene you have to know what it was like in the days before the internet.
Fortunately, my father served with someone on the synagogue ritual committee who worked for the library system, and by calling this person – during dinner, from what I could gather from my father’s side of the telephone call – discovered that there was one library branch that was open, and it was thirty minutes away by car.
It was an uncomfortable car ride. My father waited while I got out the books, and then had to drive me to his office thirty minutes in the other direction from our home, just so I could type the essay because, I had meant to add, the teacher said that the essay had to be typed.
And there was eighth grade Thanksgiving break, for which I saved an assignment to pick ten Civil War battles and write a short poem about each one. This was my first (but far from my last) experience with the “all-nighter,” as well as with the technique of using the same rhyming couplet (“In this battle of the Civil War/Twas hard to know who suffered more”) in every single poem to give some substance. I recently reviewed the teacher’s comments in red – “Good technique but need something about the battle.” – and was insulted all over again.
In twelfth grade, I honored my Thanksgiving break with an assignment to memorize and recite lines from Hamlet. As I could do this entirely by myself without need for rides or money or labor, I told no one, and stayed up all Sunday night and into Monday morning rehearsing the words “we fat ourselves for maggots.”
After dozing off and missing the bus and enduring a ride to school from a very angry and tired parent, I ran to English class, took a few deep breaths, got into character, and commenced my performance. It was more exhilarating than I had ever imagined, at least until my teacher informed me that I had learned the wrong lines, and gave me an A-.
These days, the challenge on Thanksgiving is getting ready and out the door at near light speed without upending the pie or squishing the rolls. This ritual is in its own class of torture. But by Sunday I am worry free.