Happy Thanksgiving

I sit here at my parents house … today is my birthday … as well as Thanksgiving. I’m in my pajamas, and on my 6th cup of coffee. Yesterday, on the train ride home, I finished Savage Beauty, the biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, by Nancy Milford.

And there is one section which I wanted to excerpt today – it occurred to me yesterday when I read it that it would be completely a propos for Thanksgiving, for this oh-so-American holiday.

Here’s a bit of context: Millay was in Paris, doing her bohemian thing. Hanging out with Parisians, and ex-pats, etc. She was invited to salons, to private houses, to clubs – Everyone wanted to get a look at this famous “girl-poet”, and to hear her read her famous sonnets.

Alan Ross Macdougall, an American in Paris, who edited a French literary journal, and a friend of Millay’s, introduced her to this whole Bohemian world. Here is a description of one of the encounters Millay had – and the second I read it, I thought of Thanksgiving:

Just before she read, Millay was drawn into a conversation with Mme. Delarue-Mardus, who was talking about her recent trip to the States. “Wonderful country! So alive, so vigorous! But such bad food!” [Macdougall rememebered that] “Edna’s eyebrow was raised quizzically as she heard these touristic cliches … Then she began an interrogation which was at once a patriotic dithyramb and a gastronomic prose poem in praise of her country’s native products and dishes …

“In your travels, chere madame, did you ever taste the lobsters that come from the waters off the coast of my home state, Maine? Broiled or boiled and served with melted, fresh country butter, they are unforgettable. Did you have fish chowder made of haddock, Maine potatoes, onions, salt pork and rich milk?” The travelled literary lady slowly shook her head.

“Were you ever introduced to Boston Baked Beans?” Edna continued. “I mean the kind baked in an old-fashioned crock. We cook them slowly and for long hours in the oven and serve them sometimes with such brown bread as can be found in no other part of the world. Did you ever have Cherrystones or Little Necks; and did you ever, by chance, taste a Provincetown clam pie made of the deep-sea Quahogs and a liberality of olive oil and garlic, cooked by one of the Portugese fishermen who had hauled in the clams himself? Were oyster-crabs and whitebait ever set crisp before you? Did you taste soft-shell crabs, lightly sauteed, or drink the juice of the soft-shell clam? I must say I have never met their like over here. And were you ever a happy member of an old-fashioned clam-bake on a secluded New England beach?”

Helas!” said Madame Mardus; she had not been long enough in America to have experienced the primitive joys of a clam-bake.

“Then what of the other American dishes that are seldom to be met with elsewhere on the gastronomic globe?” Edna asked. “There’s the shad roe and the shad itself, both broiled; sweet corn and sweet potatoes; pumpkin pie and deep-dish blueberry pie; diamond-back terrapin done as the Baltimoreans do it in a rich Madeira stew, or as the Philadelphians do it with egg-yolks, cream and ‘sweet butter in a lordly dish‘. Then there’s Philadelphia Pepperpot which has tripe in it, and that same city’s surprising mixture of tripe and oysters. There’s the Creole Jambalaya of New Orleans made with savory rice and shrimps almost as big as your French ecrivisses.

“We have also our native blueberries. And there are our cranberries and our beach-plums which I used to gather on Cape Code. We made delicious preserves from them. Oh, there are many other products and dishes native to states and regions of my country. If you have never tasted them, ma chere, you cannot in all fairness judge American cuisine…”

As Madame Mardus started to say something in reply we were called into the other room. I heard her there tell her friend, Romaine Brooks, the painter, that she thought Edna’s defense of her country’s specialites gastronomiques was tres bien faite.

And so: happy Thanksgiving, America.

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14 Responses to Happy Thanksgiving

  1. Sgt Hook says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, and a very Happy Birthday to you Sheila. What a great day to have your birthday on.

  2. Jim says:

    Happy Birthday Kid!

    and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

    We’ve rented a huge TV and are all watching football at your house tonight but don’t worry, we’ll clean up before we leave…

  3. Mr. Lion says:

    Wow, bird day and cake day at once. Sweet.

    Have a good one!

  4. Patrick says:

    Happy Birthday Sheila!

  5. Bill McCabe says:

    Happy Birthday and Happy Thanksgiving, Sheila!

  6. Red – What a great trifecta … B’day, Turkey day and GWB in Baghdad. Good karma.

    Fondly, Terry

  7. Juliette says:

    Happy Birthday (belated)!

  8. DeAnna says:

    I hope you had a wonderful birthday, Sheila!

  9. irishlass says:

    From one irishlass to another…

    Happy Birthday!

    And thanks for posting about one of my favorite poets. Was the book good?

  10. red says:


    It’s a terrific book, by the way. The woman who wrote it also wrote a wonderful biography of Zelda Fitzgerald … I like her style very much.

    I knew Zelda F. was wild, but I had no idea how wild Edna was.

    I think that I have lived a semi-unconventional life when it comes to love relationships, etc., but while reading “Savage Beauty” I realized that, in comparison to Edna, I am positively bourgeois.

  11. Patrick says:

    “positively bourgeois”


  12. Dave J says:

    A belated happy birthday and happy Thanksgiving, Sheila…though I’m not sure being back online after after a welcome break exactly comes as good karma on my part. ;-)

  13. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ! – Hey

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY ! – Hey everybody! Go say hi to Sheila and wish her a happy birthday. She’s a great gal and very bright too, if you ask me. All the best to you Shelia!…


    A READING RECOMMENDATION – One of my favortie blogs to read is Redheadeed Ramblings. Sheila has quite a flair with words and she comes across some of the most interesting things. Lots of literary stuff. She talks about the things…

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