Monday, November 22, 2010

Those Aren't Pillows

Did you ever see that John Candy/Steve Martin movie "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"? They are an odd-couple of strangers, teamed up by accident, just trying to get home for Thanksgiving. But one funny disaster after the next befalls them along the way. In this one scene they have been relegated to a cheesy motel, sleeping in a single bed together. Martin's character, Neal, wakes first to discover that he and Candy's character, Del, are in a spooning position. Del, obviously thinking he is at home with his spouse, is holding his hand and cooing softly. Neal inquires, "Del, why are you holding my hand?", as Del dreamily awakes. Neal frowns and then asks "Where's your other hand?" Del - still waking up - replies, "Between two pillows." Neal breaks the silence of the moment with a shriek of "Those aren't pillows!". The two men jump out of bed and try to shake off an implication of inappropriate behavior with references to football and other manly pursuits. It's a hilarious flick if you've never seen it, and watching it has become a Thanksgiving tradition in my home.

Of course our original Thanksgiving traditions go all the way back to the first colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Jamestown, Virginia. If you have never been, I highly recommend both. At Plymouth (or Plimoth Planation as it was known), you will be treated to an educational and entertaining re-creation of the second permanent English colony in America, and the place from where our original Thanksgiving legend originated (I say legend because much of what we think we know about the first Thanksgiving is probably not quite right). For example, it is very unlikely that the Pilgrims and native Wampanoag tribe celebrated a meal together in 1621. It was noted in several journals and letters that the colonists celebrated their first harvest that fall, and that curious representatives of the Wampanoag dropped by. The fact is, the remaining Pilgrims were happy and lucky to still be alive (many of them were neither) and, understandably, the two groups of people were not on the best of terms. None of this should deter you from enjoying your visit, or continuing to celebrate this treasured piece of our cultural past. Quite the opposite, really. The English plantation is staffed with interpreters who dress in period clothing, and speak in period accents. You can ask them anything you want about their lives, and they will answer from a 17th century perspective. They never break character. The Wompanoag homestead, however, is staffed by modern day members of the tribe. They feel it would be inappropriate to reenact something they still feel culturally a part of and, that not talking about the hardship that befell them after the arrival of the English would be a disservice. I respect and admire both perspectives, and came away with a knowledge of this distant past not really available in any other format. If you visit, you can rent a timeshare in either Boston or Cape Cod. Plymouth is situated along the route between the two.

With our Thanksgiving tracing its routes to Plymouth, it is easy to forget that the Jamestown settlement predates it by thirteen years. On the shores of the Jamestown River you will find a beautiful museum, a re-creation of the English fort, replicas of the boats they sailed from England, and a native Powhatan village. After enjoying the extensive displays of artifacts, movies and galleries at the museum, you climb aboard the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, and see just what a hellish experience the trip from England must have been for those original 104 men and boys. Then you can take a tour of the fort and native village. Both groups of interpreters dress in period garb and occupy themselves with period tasks. But neither pretends to be in the past. So if you ask a Powhatan about their most famous daughter, Pocahontas, they are going to be aware of the Disney movie as well as real life details of the Indian princess. I'll tell you first-hand that they don't know why Mel Gibson was cast in a singing role as John Smith. Nobody does, really. When you go, be sure to rent a timeshare in nearby Williamsburg. It will put you in the heart of America's Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, where the British finally called it quits in the Revolutionary War. The latter is why we watch football on Thanksgiving and not soccer, I suppose. I for one am thankful for that.

Well, I am off to get ready for my local Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot. Do you know about these? Yeah, a bunch of people who are otherwise sedentary the other 364 days of the year participate in a 5k race on the morning of Thanksgiving. I guess it is a way to try to preemptively burn off the 10,000 calories awaiting them later in the day, and they typically raise money for charity too. But from a pure comedy standpoint, it's priceless and I like to reserve myself a spot right near the finish line. Do you remember the opening segment on Wide World of Sports when the announcer would say, "The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat"? It's like that, without the victory.

1 comment:

  1. Such a funny movie! I always learn so much from reading your posts, Seymour. Thanks for the history lesson too!