Tails of Beacon Hollow Farm: Christmas at Thanksgiving

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 7:30pm

It started out dark, cold and overcast the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 1989.

The wind began to blow as it does on Block Island, a bit easterly when a nor’easter is brewing. As morning headed towards noon, snow began to fall and yes, for sure, the afternoon boats were cancelled. My wife and I had invited the mainland family members to join us for a real old-fashioned Block Island Thanksgiving. Needless to say, it wasn’t going to happen. The calls began to come in. “The roads are getting bad.” “Will there be a ferry?”

What was worse was the one, only boat on Thanksgiving Day was already cancelled. My mother-in-law, the great woman that she was, had insisted upon bringing all the food and would take part in the early-morning traditional dressing and cooking of the turkey. Obviously, Thanksgiving Dinner would be a non-starter. Fortunately, they all managed to get home safely as the storm worsened in intensity all afternoon into the night on Nov. 23, 1989.

We hunkered down, just the two of us, wood stove aglow, clam chowder simmering in the pot (always had clams and potatoes).

Our two huskies were besides themselves cavorting in the now 12 inches of new-fallen snow. Bedtime came early that Thanksgiving Eve, though the 60 to 70 m.p.h. winds made sleep a bit restless.

When morning came it was still snowing, the depth of which no one can really tell on Block Island. It’s either nothing or six feet of drifts. We made the best of it, both of us loving all aspects of winter. Thanksgiving dinner would be chicken thighs from the freezer, canned peas, corn, carrots, those wonderful potatoes, and a great find, one can of cranberry sauce. I took the half-frozen pumpkin off the front porch and turned it into a great holiday pie. By noon the snow slowly subsided, leaving the island a winter wonderland.

I ventured out to get some wood for the fire. I was literally taken by this almost mystical setting of a Currier & Ives scene — and on Thanksgiving Day no less. Caught up in the moment, I thought I heard sleigh bells and a horse whinny, then children laughing. My mind was playing games — or was it? Was this Thanksgiving or really Christmas? On our front lawn in the deep snow was a horse and sleigh with Rick Batchelder and his family. The horse was Buster.

“If we can come in by the fire for a warm-up, we will take you for a ride.”

So we did warm up, steam arising from ice-coated scarfs and boots by the fire. A bit of hot chocolate and off we went down West Side Road to town. It could have been 1889, not 1989, as Buster pulled the sleigh through town, bells a-jingle, the Surf, National and a town of antiquity before us. 

It was a blizzard, boats not running, few people able to get to the island for the holiday, yet the day was one to remember. It brought us back in time. A time warp of nostalgia and a sense of what was in the early days of Block Island. You might think and wish like me that it still was here.

I bought the sleigh from Rick. It has sat in my barn loft now for many years, waiting for another day. Buster is long gone.

In reality, and looking back, it truly was a real old-fashioned Block Island Merry Christmas, but on Thanksgiving Day.