For many years we lived in Butler House, that fine Federal-period edifice next to Loomis on Main Street. Apparently Caleb Butler (1776 - 1854), the second principal of Lawrence Academy (or preceptor, as they were called then), had a good deal of money, as the house is beautifully built, with chamfered indian shutters for all the ground-floor windows, elaborate ceiling mouldings, fancy door and window frames, etc. It also boasts a large kitchen and a lovely, spacious dining room, on the front of the house. I noted in a Butler family history that Caleb and his wife had a number of children—hence, perhaps, the need for the large space devoted to nourishment.
When we moved into the main part of Butler House in the mid-1970s, a few years after the school had purchased the property, the kitchen, as in Caleb’s time, was still equipped to feed a large family: There were two ovens, one gas and one electric, and the long cooktop island had fold-down counters at stool height, designed to feed four or five kids at a time.
Almost as soon as we had unpacked the last suitcase, my parents presented us with the massive mahogany dining room set that my great-grandfather had had built in the 1880s. Dad had just retired, and their new house didn’t have the space, but we did. The huge oval table and its seven matching chairs fit perfectly into Mr. Butler’s dining room, as did a 1920s sideboard, also of mahogany, that Mom and Dad could no longer use.
The table has four leaves; using all of them, we could seat eighteen people and still have plenty of room to move around. This fact was not lost on my mother, who informed us, by some telepathic means I’ve never figured out, that henceforth we would be in charge of Thanksgiving.
And so we were. For fifteen years or so, we were up at crack of dawn to put the bird in the oven, set the great table with newly-polished silver, and start cooking all the vegetables that we should have done ahead of time but hadn’t. The day, like the meal itself, was always the same. Mom brought a dish of celery and olives that nobody ate; the pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres lasted far too long, so the kids didn’t get naps and were cranky.
After a few years I got sick of getting up early and roasting the turkey and then smelling it all over the house. One November in the late 1980s, shortly before we moved to Pepperell, we had the brilliant idea to forget about turkey for a year and buy a ham from Blood Farm in West Groton instead. I called my parents to tell them that we were having ham for Thanksgiving instead of turkey. Mom answered the phone. The conversation went something like this:
—Hi, Mom, it’s me. Just wanted to let you know about Thanksgiving.
—Hi, dahling. Shall I bring the celery and olives?
—Sure. By the way, we’re not getting a turkey this year. We’re going to have a ham from Blood’s. They’re fantastic. And it’ll be a lot less work.
—That’s all right. I’ll bring the turkey.
—Mom, we’re not having turkey. We’re having ham.
—That’s fine. I’ll bring the turkey.
—Mom, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. We’re tired of turkey and want to do something different for a year.
—Well, I’ll bring the turkey. And the celery and olives.
—Really, Mom, you don’t have to…
—That’s all right, dahling. We’ll bring the turkey.
I said good-bye and sat down at the kitchen table, vanquished. She has to have gotten the message, I thought to myself. She wouldn’t…
She did. In the front door with my parents on Thanksgiving morning came a foil-wrapped, pre-roasted, pre-plattered specimen of meleagris gallopavo. I carved the ham. Dad carved the turkey. No one ate the celery and olives.