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Thanksgiving memories

11/23/06 12:00AM By Howard Coffin
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(HOST) For most of us, Thanksgiving is about more than food and football. For commentator Howard Coffin it's mostly about family - and fond memories.

(COFFIN) My mother served up a turkey dinner that rivaled any, with one exception. She said that nobody ever cooked a turkey like Gram Coffin. How my paternal grandmother did it to this day remains a mystery. Employing a process that would win modern day condemnation from the FDA, Bertha Minerva Metcalf Coffin began cooking her turkey a week before the holiday. She put it in the oven for about an hour each day, until the holiday morning. Then she gave it a final heating. The result was a moist and tender, delicious turkey crammed with mouthwatering stuffing, the likes of which nobody who ever sat down at her table said they had ever experienced. It was literally melt in your mouth wonderful and the aunts, uncles and grandchildren paid her their greatest compliment by eating themselves into near stupors. As turkey day afternoon waned, the uncles did, indeed, rumble.

Grandmother Coffin was a remarkable lady. Born on a Pomfret hill farm, she never went south of Boston or north of Burlington, yet she seemed to know everything about the world. Back in the depression, before marrying my widowed grandfather and becoming an instant mother to four sons, she took a kerosene heater and a chamber pot to the un-insulated attic of her home and rented out the two lower floors for a year. Sleeping under a pile of quilts, she paid the bills and managed, just barely, to keep possession of her home.

When her grandsons came along, on rainy days she would go to that attic and bring down an old book filled with pictures of the Civil War. That daughter of a Vermonter wounded in 1862 at Lee's Mills sparked a lifelong interest in one of those boys.

I think of her at Thanksgiving, imagine her alone in the dark cold looking from her high attic window across the valley to the warm and glowing Woodstock mansions, holding onto her home for what? For grandchildren she as yet did not know would enter her life.

We gather together to ask the Lord's blessings, were words from one of her favorite hymns. She was one of my great blessings, a lady skilled as a gardener with a well known knack for transplanting wild flowers, and a bird expert. And she wrote poetry she tried not to let the rest of the world see.

New England born Thanksgiving celebrates our region's bounty, preparing us to face its long cold. After Bertha Coffin died fifty years ago, I found one scrap of her verse, words that have helped sustain me through many a northcountry winter. She left by mistake, in a pantry cupboard these two lines:

It was early in the morning, I walked out to meet the spring.
With the dandelions blooming, I walked out to meet the spring.

Howard Coffin is an author and historian who's specialty is the civil war.

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