Amid holiday tumult, Lee Arnold, HSP's Senior Director of the Library & Collections and Chief Operating Officer, takes a humorous look at hidden Thanksgiving "history."
The story we have all been told, about a happy confluence between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, really didn’t happen. In fact, the Wampanoag, on that crisp 4th Thursday of November, just wanted to have a nice quiet feast without all those foreigners peppering them with silly questions: Where are we again?; Is there any place to get a nice cuppa’ tea?; What do you think of Brexit?, etc. Every time one of the Pilgrims would come to the Indian village, hinting for an invitation (“Don’t have any T-day plans…” or “Sure would be nice to be with loved ones on the holiday…”), the Wampanoags would just close their windows, turn off the lights, and pretend they weren’t home—just like they had to do with the Pilgrims the month before on Halloween.
The only Wampanoag who actually set foot in Plymouth Plantation was a Native cat which the Pilgrims called Francine but her Indian name was Fri-Tṑ-Lay-Fḗt (which roughly translates to “She whose toes smell like corn chips”). She didn’t come to Plymouth because she liked the Pilgrims; she was usually just looking for voles. But this day a hungry Pilgrim named Vivica bribed Francine with two freshly shucked quahogs. Francine not only led them to the Wampanoag smokehouse where they found ample supplies of venison and wild turkey, but she also led them to the Wampanoag pantry where they found cases of canned cranberry sauce and enough Sam Adams Pale Ale to fend off the cold till at least the New Year.
In the end the Wampanoags did set extra plates at the table (but did not put out the good silver) and taught the Pilgrims how to make a wish using the, aptly named, turkey wishbones; the Pilgrims taught them how to belch and re-notch their belts after over-eating. [We all know what the Wampanoags really wished for.] Francine, ultimately, was felis-non-grata in both communities. The Wampanoag changed her name to Bi-Valv-Kit-Tḗ (which roughly means “Cat who sells soul for small shellfish”); the Pilgrims soon forgot her heroic service that fall day and kept yelling “scat” and clapping their hands whenever she was seen in the Plantation with a vole in her mouth. They also wouldn’t let her play with any yarn on the Sabbath and she had to sit still during 3-hour sermons at Wednesday evening services. And then there were the mandatory choir rehearsals on Thursdays, and…well, Francine had simply had it and moved to Rhode Island.