A Thanksgiving Cautionary Tale by Andrea Santo Felcone


I’m really hoping history is not about to repeat itself. But, I’m going to buy a couple extra sticks of butter—the fanciest kind I can find, as a safeguard. After all, if history does repeat itself, today’s the day it’s going to happen.Butter

You see, many years ago (it doesn’t matter exactly how many to keep this story interesting), I was a second grader. (Or third?) I don’t really remember which grade it was, but let’s just make it second (since I have a second grader now). (Symmetry is nice in a story.) Anyway, I was a second grader, and I guess you could say I had a slight overachiever problem. Well, it didn’t seem like a problem at the time, as all my elementary school girlfriends were also ridiculous overachievers. It was right about this time of year, right before Thanksgiving. And someone, one of the second grade teachers in my school, I guess, decided it would be a great idea if we recreated the “Thanksgiving Feast of our Forefathers” and we replicated some of the food the Pilgrims ate. And wouldn’t it be a “kick” if the second graders themselves made these foods?

So, this teacher, or maybe all of them collectively, went to work planning the menu. They decided my class would make homemade butter for the homemade cornbread supplied by another class. Each child would take a turn “churning” this homemade delicacy. And this teacher, or teachers, decided wouldn’t it be grand to pretend a glass mayonnaise jar was the “butter churning device” and hand that sucker off to each 7 or 8-year-old child, sit back, and watch what happened? Now, I like to think there was one thoughtful teacher, maybe in the back of the teachers’ lounge, who raised his or her hand and asked, “Do you think we should worry about the kids dropping that glass jar?” But, of course, that person was hushed, and told to go get him/herself another TAB cola and a cigarette. Now, I know I said, “forget what year this was”, but let’s be real, we are talking the mid-1970s—a time when we were all about danger in any form–because nowadays no one in their right mind would hand a 7-year-old a slippery (for some reason it was really slippery) glass object.

Anyway, back to my story. The teacher had placed the cream in the jar and handed it off to the first child. Our only instructions were, “shake this jar”. So, there I am, and this detail is important, the VERY LAST CHILD in MY WHOLE ENTIRE CLASS to have a turn at “churning” the “butter” (i.e. a glob of cream in a slippery mayo jar). When the jar got to me, it really didn’t look like much. So, I did what I always did. I tried my best, and then tried harder. I shook the jar as hard as a kid with average muscle strength can shake a slippery mayo jar. And guess what happened? Well, of course you know what happened. The jar slipped right through my fingers, and along with it, our dreams of replicating the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving experience. Goopy cream on floor; shards of glass everywhere—last child to shake jar (me), in tears. The shame and humiliation were palpable.

So, what did our resourceful teacher do next? Would she provide a stand-in mayo jar filled with rich, creamy butter? And try to “pass” this jar off as the jar I broke? No. Would she bring in store-bought rich, creamy butter, explain the situation to the other class, and yet provide a delicious quality substitute? No. You can imagine the disappointment in everyone’s eyes as my teacher plunked down that tub of Parkay® margarine. Parkay®? Even at the tender age of 7 or 8, I knew this wasn’t good. Was this woman trying to kill all my friendships? She couldn’t spring for real butter? Even cheap butter? No. She had purchased Parkay® margarine, adding salt (and trans fats) to my otherwise open wound. The kids who had poured their heart and soul into making their first cornbread shot me looks, ugly looks. No one was thankful for the Parkay®. I suppose she could have been providing a life lesson, that when life takes away your homemade creamy butter in a shattered mess, you just pick yourself up, go to the market and buy whatever’s on sale.

My elementary school was shaped like an “L”. Typically you were in class with kids on your side of the “L” and very rarely did friendships form with kids from the other side of the “L”. Until fourth grade. In fourth grade I made a new friend, a friend from the other side of the “L”. She became my “best friend forever” … or until college, at least. And somehow, one time, many years later, we started reminiscing about the “good old days” and we landed on that “Thanksgiving Feast That Wasn’t”–the one that had held the promise of homemade butter–but didn’t.

I can’t even describe to you the look she gave me when she found out I was the one to drop the butter….

“That was YOU! YOU were BUTTER GIRL?!” (As she recoiled and gave me a look that suggested she was rethinking our entire friendship…. I had no idea I had earned the nickname, “Butter Girl”. Great.) I thought she knew, but apparently time had washed my reputation clean, until I told her. (This was probably the first chink in the armor that eventually unraveled our friendship.)

So, now, you can only imagine how I felt when sitting at my son’s conference last week and hearing his teacher excitedly explain this fun little project they are embarking on today … making homemade butter for homemade cornbread to celebrate Thanksgiving. I explained about my second grade trauma, but she seemed unmoved. I went home and told my son about our family history, admitted my shame. I explained how maybe it was best not to be the last child to shake the jar; not to try to outdo all the other kids. Our family cannot afford another Parkay® Scandal. But, just in case he decides to follow in my footsteps, my slippery, glass-covered footsteps; I will be ready.

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  1. 2 Responses to “A Thanksgiving Cautionary Tale by Andrea Santo Felcone”

  2. As I read this I am smeared with mashed yams and chunks of corn-studded batter. And I know darned well that my green beans with shiitake mushrooms cooked a good 8 minutes too long, thereby ruining the only non-starchy dish that is going on my table tomorrow. (Aside from the Turkey and the Stuffed Tofurkey Roast of course.) BUT as bad as it will be at least I can take solace in knowing that I’ll never have to be called “Butter Girl”. That title is yours alone, my friend!

    By Paula Cohen-Martin on Nov 22, 2017

  3. Yes, Paula, take solace in that! Happy Thanksgiving!!

    By Andrea Santo Felcone on Nov 23, 2017

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