by Henry Swain
In Indiana, November is a transition month taking us from autumn into winter. It is a mirror of February, which diminishes winter and introduces spring. We are probably conditioned to how we feel about these two months by our earlier environment, and perhaps our occupations.
Most of the farmers in the community in which I was raised looked forward to winter. It meant the days of planting and harvest were over for the year. November represented to them a sigh of weary relief from the hard days of labor that began in early spring.
They still had their daily chores, feeding the chickens, the horses, milking the cows, and filling the firewood ricks for the next year when good weather days permitted. November did not have the ever-present urgency of spring.
Housewives had the basement shelves filled with summer canning. The men had gathered a cone of turnips in the garden covered with straw and canvas waiting to be raided for winter meals. The potato bins were mounded high. The wives found the wood-fired range made their kitchens much more comfortable than during the sweltering days of August.
November usually called for a day to butcher a hog. Large iron kettles were raised so that a brisk fire could be made under them to heat the water. A tripod was rigged to hold the hog in a position to be butchered. With the water heated, the farmer would go to his pig lot. A single shot would be heard, and two men would drag the hog to be suspended from the tripod. The whole process would consume the day.
November was not without its inconveniences. Many of the morning and evening chores had to be done by lantern light. Lamp globes had to be kept clean, and the lamp wicks trimmed. A supply of coal oil (now called kerosene) had to be laid in so as not to be short should winter snowstorms prevent the weekly trip to town for supplies. Some housewives kept a jar of kerosene in the kitchen. They would dip two or three corncobs into it to use to start a quick morning fire in the kitchen range.
In farming communities, the winter months were a time of visiting. The unheated parlor would be opened and a fire built in the fireplace. Neighbors would be invited for supper and stay late for conversation and gossip. The visitors would make their way home on foot under a friendly sky of stars. November was the month that opened the social season in my farming community. November was probably the farmer’s favorite month.
Indiana is no longer an agrarian state of small farms. We see November without the history of harvest. It is a month next to winter that has two holidays, Thanksgiving and Veteran’s Day.
My first memory of Veteran’s Day was in second grade. It was not long after World War I, and was then called Armistice Day. The armistice of World War I was signed in a railroad car in Europe on the eleventh month, at the eleventh day, at the eleventh hour, and the eleventh minute. The teacher told our class to silent for one whole minute out of respect for those who had died in the “war to end all wars.”
The slogan did not last. Yet to come, World War II was to “make the world safe for democracy.” So much for slogans! We have had so many wars since, the word armistice lost its meaning. Being the practical nation we are, we changed the name to Veteran’s Day, which covers all wars past and accommodates future wars.
Thanksgiving holiday is much more palatable. It represents the kinder more likable side of our nation, and the kinder more likable side of its inhabitants.
I sometimes speculate that the months of the year represent the stages of our lives with January representing the beginning and December the end. In what month are you at this moment?
Closing in on my eighty sixth year, I guess I’m a November boy. With luck, I still have part or all of December. When you get to the November of your lives, will you be comfortable with your harvest? It is never to late to add to the harvest. It also may be your last opportunity to ask forgiveness of others and extend forgiveness to others.
Thanksgiving is my favorite national holiday. It represents gratitude and sharing, two traits of character that express the best in us. Without them all of our other national holidays would be without substance. Shakespeare comes to mind: “Blow, blow thou winter winds, thou are not half so unkind as man’s ingratitude.” HAPPY THANKSGIVING.