I don’t know if I dreamt it, or if it is an event that actually happened.
It was a Pilgrim weather day, but I don’t know, it could have been in March, it could have been in December. My Kindergarten class took an excursion to see a cow. But it seems to me we were not told the purpose of the field trip until we arrived, and perhaps not even then. Outside, it was dark, but who would take little children to see a cow at night? It must have been in the afternoon, when my Kindergarten class usually met. So it was a dark afternoon, bleak, wet, cold. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Blair, being frustrated or confused or something, something wasn’t going right, though I couldn’t divine what exactly, just the air of mismanagement and possible danger. This exacerbated the already eerie feeling provoked by being on a farm in the dark in the rain and of having been ripped from civilization and parents for perhaps the first time in my life. The wind was whistling, the sky was overcast, and we marched through black mud and into some kind of manger, where a cow was lying down, lit only by a lantern. The cow seemed sad, or scared. I suspect that it was having a baby, or had or was expected to presently. Because it was a huge to do, and why would you drag a group of 5 years olds through the mud just to see a regular cow not doing anything but lying in a barn?
The whole event spooked me.
It sounds like a dream, but I am certain this happened. The memories of small children are basically the same as dreams. Something is going on and, lacking vital information, you cannot make sense of it, so you create a narrative in which it is comprehensible. And add a mysterious animal.
When I was little, I was afraid of Pilgrims. For my Russian readers, I am referring to these Pilgrims. Even before I was old enough to appreciate their religio-capitalist occupation of native lands, their past time of witch-hanging and generally creepy Protestantism, I feared them. Pilgrims were never depicted as being creatures of whimsy, romance or creative temperament. No, they were a decidedly stern, self-loathing prudes who saw the world in the same black and white as their weird Pilgrim clothing. Who would want to spend Thanksgiving with this lot? (Also, how obnoxious is it to thank God for the abundance you reaped from colonizing a foreign land? God didn’t give you that stuff, you took it!) Anyway, I think part of what terrified me about Pilgrims was the weather associated with them. In my little 5 year old mind, every day of a Pilgrim’s life was as grey and bleak and spooky. They were like vampires, unable to coexist with the warmth of sunlight or the scent of blooming flowers. And mid-November was like their midnight. And also in my 5 year old mind, they continued to live among us. Oh sure, maybe the bulk of their society had disappeared, but there had to be some stragglers. Just as today there are still Amish, in 1980 there were still Pilgrims. Right? Lurking in the woods, in their olden days dress, muskets slung over their arms, lying in wait for an Indian, a witch, or an unwitting 5 year old girl on a field trip? I could see the Pilgrims before my eyes. No, they were not exactly malicious. But, like the inhabitants of my small town, their simplicity, fake kindness and prudishness put me on alert. I didn’t know what they were up to, but it was surely straight outta Stephen King.
I really loathed, and continue to loathe, the small town in which I grew up. Not the quaint river town where I was born and schooled and where my family resides to this day, but the town of two thousand, further inland, on the threashold of civilization, surrounded on all sides by cornfield and dirt. One road impaled the beast. The journey heading out of town and toward the greater Metro East area seemed torturous as a kid. Why couldn’t we live in a normal town, the kind that is next to other normal towns, and not separated from normal things like movie theaters and schools and shops and grandparents by a 20 minute drive down a long, straight, narrow highway lined on one side with a railroad track and the other with fields of … nothing? I resented the road more than the town, even. The town had nothing to offer human civilization, but the road seemed to exist to prove a point. The souls who live here have been ostracized. This road was the restraining order those bitches Culture and Society had filed against us. Utterly depressing. There was nothing to do during that drive but reflect upon the desolation and ugliness crawling at the windshield. At night I would rest my head back, look up at the stars (yes) and listen to the radio. But for some strange reason, on days like today, days like the cow pilgrimage, Pilgrim weather days, I kind of loved this road. The blond and rust colored fields slashed with black trenches of mud. The leafless trees -not entirely, a few leaves remained, sitting shiva for their fallen comrades- clawing at the sky. A lone crow on a telephone pole. The way it doesn’t rain but everything is wet, phantom rain. The forgotten train tracks. The absolute silence. The emptiness and no ambition to be otherwise. It was the money shot of every indie filmmaker’s dreams. On these days, Pilgrim weather days, I almost miss that rural hell. Not enough to make me return, not even for a minute, but enough to supply me with the appreciation required of maturity.
For all the gluttony and sloth, for all the religious freaks killing girls and Indians, for all our lurid history and unbecoming behavior, Thanksgiving makes me love America. November in the heartland. There is certain unique beauty about it, something noble, austere, mystical and silent. No one associates these traits with America. Not even Americans. But I so so love this time of year, it makes it impossible for me to hate this place. It even makes me thankful I live here.