I spent way too much time the past few weeks wondering how Thanksgiving would be celebrated on Cooperation Island—a place that doesn’t actually exist. So today, partly to remind us all what “normal” would look like, I’m going to share a few fly-on-the-wall thoughts about how my imaginary friends might be spending this best holiday of the year.
First of all, there are still ZERO cases of COVID-19 on Brenton Island! Second, there will be no spoilers—so even if you haven’t yet read Ferry to Cooperation Island, please continue.
The island’s 37 residents would definitely all celebrate together. I’m picturing an afternoon potluck in the schoolroom; people who don’t like to be out after dark shouldn’t have any excuse to stay home. And it is a glorious sunny day, with a light westerly breeze and afternoon temperatures peaking out in the low 50s. Most people have just seen each other the day before or will likely see each other the day after, down at the Bean or up at Prime’s Grocery, so they dress up a little—to make it special.
Lila McKay and her students spent Wednesday transforming their classroom into a festive dining area. First they pushed all their desks into a row against the back wall and covered them with mismatched tablecloths, forming a serving buffet. Next, they swept the entire room and set up six folding tables and 36 chairs. The two second graders even made centerpieces for each table (custom conflagrations of dried flowers, colorful leaves, and glitter, glued to brown construction paper).
On Thanksgiving afternoon, the Irreverend opens the door first and then stands near it to greet everyone else. He either hugs or shakes hands with every single arrival—tall, small, young, old—as soon as they come inside, before they even have a chance to offload the food they’ve brought to share. He encourages the quieter islanders to mingle with someone they don’t interact with every day, though he can usually predict who most folks will sit down with for the meal. He can also guess (by scent, and predictable repetition) what’s hidden inside all those casserole dishes.
Who brings what?
Well, that’s a fun thing to consider. I’m guessing that Parker Dane volunteers the Skye View Inn’s chef to cook four enormous turkeys again this year, even though the main oven’s thermostat is definitely on the fritz. Mémé will bring her usual specialty, candied yams. Barb the baker arrives with four trays of holiday hard rolls, which were a lot more work than her everyday loaves. And Sam from Prime’s Grocery shows up with a mismatched cartful of fancy bottles, dominated by ginger beer and wine spritzers (neither had proven as popular with the summer tourists as he’d expected).
Will the Writer carries in two large bags from a New York deli and laboriously arranges a beautiful (but mostly unrecognizable) tray of gourmet cheeses, patés, dried meats, and olives; the accompanying crackers quickly disappear. Anna Crosby proudly sets down three pies, which prompts the doctor’s wife to start speculating (too loudly) that the artist would try to pass them off as homemade again this year. Patty and her mother set up the Bean’s backup coffee urn, which bubbles and burbles away for the next several hours. (By the end of the meal, the brown odor of over-brewed coffee will start to overwhelm other scents like roast turkey, chalk dust, and the faint but unmistakeable whiffs of seldom-worn clothing: cedar and mothballs.)
When the cartful of drinks shrinks to less than half full, people begin to wonder aloud when the turkey will finally show up. A few take their already chosen seats, fidgeting with the Inn flatware and folding the Halloween-themed napkins (another leftover from Prime’s Grocery) into origami. The doctor’s wife even helps herself to a plateful of food, after dropping several reminders about her low blood sugar.
Chef Gretchen and Parker finally appear carrying heaping platters of sliced turkey, and everyone lines up to load their plate. Unfortunately, the white meat proves to be tongue-stickingly dry thanks to that unpredictable oven. But Gretchen also delivers a large vat of her famous fisherman’s stew, which doubles as a handy, if untraditional, gravy.
Eating and Toasting
Chewing and swallowing quiets conversations only for a short while, and by the time the Irreverend stands to make his pre-dessert toast, he has to clink knife against beer glass to shut down all those alcohol-loosened tongues (and a wailing toddler). “Though you all don’t always agree with me,” the Irreverend begins, “I like to think we all feel very grateful right now. Grateful to have this special day when—no matter what we each believe, about who might’ve created this glorious world—we all pause to count our blessings. Grateful to gather together here with family and friends, sharing food and drink and stories. Grateful for our full bellies. And most of all, grateful to live in a place that rewards us for cooperation. We–”
“We agree with ya already!” Harbormaster Mack calls out, raising his empty glass to the Irreverend—and simultaneously belching, which prompts a chorus of laughter.
The Irreverend, gracious in defeat, raises his own glass. “Sláinte—good health—to all!”
“Cheers! Good health! Happy Thanksgiving!” Around the room, neighbors toast each other. And then chairs scrape against the wood floor, as teenagers go back to load a plate with seconds and the adults score a drink refill—or try one tiny piece of that weird-looking salami.
As for Captain James? Well, he’s not exactly a gourmet cook, so he hasn’t contributed any food. But he does convince a posse of teens and adults to stick around afterward and clean up.
The rest of the islanders head on home, many exclaiming on the gorgeous (though early) sunset to the south and west. A few will grouse about those stinky New York patés or that weak coffee. One in particular might even speculate that the pumpkin pie was, actually, homemade—though DEFINITELY not the apple or the mince. But most will simply carry their full-bellied contentment silently back to their cottages, grateful no matter what they believe for whoever created this glorious world.
Thank you for letting me indulge my curiosity about this holiday on Cooperation Island, and Happy Thanksgiving! May you and yours spend the day counting your blessings; mine definitely include you, my readers (as well as all of those imaginary friends).
Want another helping?
One thing about a Thursday blog: once a year, it always lands on Thanksgiving. Here’s are 5 of my favorites from previous years. Enjoy and thanks for reading!