Thanksgiving Reflections by Gianna Bruno
Thanksgiving is over and the winter holiday season is fast approaching. No matter if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Yule, Kwanza or something else, the time from the last harvest to the end of the year finds us turning inward and retreating inside as the days shorten, the darkness deepens, the weather turns cold. The first Thanksgiving at Plymouth was just that: The pilgrims sharing a bounty of food and celebrating friendship with the Indians in the good times while at the same time anticipating many difficulties ahead.
2011 has been a challenging year for me, with many good things but many trials as well. As always, I sit back on Thanksgiving and wistfully look back to the years when life was much more simple.
I was living in Vermont, far from family and friends. The whole crowd came up to my log cabin–in true ski house fashion, cramming into the place for a long weekend. We cooked Thanksgiving dinner on one stove for over 20 people.
Two turkeys barely fit in the oven, with sweet potatoes crammed in around them. Then there was the last-minute frenzy to mash white potatoes and rutabaga (a specialty handed down from my German grandmother), and heat the stuffed artichokes and lasagna.
The day before before, we had baked pies, putting them out of the reach of dog (there were three or four as I recall) on the cross beams of the log interior.
There was no Internet then, primitive VCRs, and grainy music cassettes. No digital television, and reception in the mountains would often fail just at the moment of the biggest play of the football game. We entertained ourselves by enjoying the almost winter Vermont weather, which included a hard frost and smattering of snowflakes.
We took long walks through the naked woods, crisp and still brightly colored leaves crunching under our feet. Deer, bunnies, porcupines–the dogs chased them but we never had to use the tomato juice stockpiled in case one of them got too close to the skunks. We marveled at a beaver dam on one of the tributaries of the Deerfield River, but the little workers were nowhere in sight.
Some snoozed in the living room, covered with hand crocheted blankets and patchwork quilts. Others clustered around the downstairs woodstove, the main source of heat for the house, taking great pains to keep it fed and properly banked for maximum efficiency.
Guest departed one by one over the long weekend. By Sunday night the house was silent, and my soon to be ex-husband and I sat alone, not saying much. It would be two years before the marriage died and I moved back to New York City.
I suppose it’s memories like that which helped me write The Journey—an erotic paranormal romance with historic elements set near Salem, Massachusetts just before the start of the Civil War. Milena is alone in her cabin for almost a year after her lover Thomas disappears at sea. She harvests her crops, sets aside the bounty for the upcoming winter, and prepares her animals and her home for the forbidding Northeastern weather.
The hardships are more difficult because she is alone, without the warmth—both physical and emotional—of any family, friends or her life partner; an experience I have touched though not to the extent of the fictional character that grew out of my imagination.
It’s the loneliness and desperation that compel Milena to set off to find him, facing many dangers and making many sacrifices along the way. Just as many of us travel far to be with our families during this season of the year. Though the traffic, transportation delays, and the expense are an inconvenience we do it for the same reasons—for companionship, comfort, and to reaffirm our love for each other—and for life.
I wish you all the warmest wishes of the season, and my hope that those of us who are blessed to have family, friends, food, shelter, and health will reach out to those in need.
The journey is not about a destination, rather overcoming the obstacles along the way.
They don’t hang witches in Salem anymore, but Milena’s punishment is being shunned. When her lover Thomas’ ship is lost at sea, she fears he perished with the rest of the crew leaving her alone in a town bracing for a war over slavery, but still rife with an older form of prejudice.
Milena travels into the Forest and Sea Otherworlds to search for him, paying the fairies for her passage with bodily pleasures. Circe, the evil mermaid holding Thomas hostage, demands even more. She faces off against Circe in her underwater lair, endures the wrath of a colony of escaped slaves, and learns the terrible truth of what led to the shipwreck that left Thomas as its only survivor.
On the long journey, Milena learns to use her powers in ways she never imagined and discovers surprising truths about her own past. Left questioning everything she has ever believed, she must make the choice whether to return home with Thomas or stay in the Otherworlds forever.
Milena planted and tended her garden from the spring ritual of Ostara through late summer, dividing each day into tasks to ease the uncertainty. By the first chill of the autumnal equinox, nests of branches to use as tinder and split logs to keep the hearth ablaze rested in neat piles.
The harvest yielded a bountiful crop of onions, potatoes, pumpkins and corn. The woods gifted baskets of nuts and berries. She slit the piglets’ throats, butchered them and hung the meat to dry over smoldering apple wood and hickory.
She made ready for Thomas’ homecoming, but the harvest moon came and went. Frost tipped the stubble in the fields, but he did not walk through the now blazing orange and yellow forest to claim his reward.
* * * *
Even with ample wood, Milena shivered through the long winter. She studied the sky in the frigid air at winter solstice, listened to the wind whispering in the pine boughs and wolves howling dirges to the moon. The ritual, repeated at each solitary esbat, offered no peace, no insight, no clue.
Spring peeked out from under the snow; filaments of grass that starving deer plucked before her hungry horse could paw them free from the icy ground. Milena huddled under her furs, and only the call of the hungry livestock spurned her to venture outside. She dumped moldy potatoes and apples into the pens and talked to them to keep from going mad, while they picked at the half-frozen clods. The sun rose earlier and set later but the nights, without the promise of her Thomas, remained long, filled with nightmares and tears.
Sunshine warmed the earth. Milena summoned the strength to work the soil and prepare for planting. At dusk, she sat by the fire and watched the chill mists coalesce over the ground like a frosty blanket.
She watched the moon wax and wane for the ninth time and collapsed to the ground, clutching her abdomen, mourning the child not conceived the last night she and Thomas spent together. A baby born in the spring, during the rites of Beltane, and its celebration of fertility, would have provided a lasting reminder of her man who lay unburied at the bottom of the sea, mangled by sharks, perhaps a pile of bones spit out by cannibals.
Milena pounded the ground until her fists bled and clods of mud covered her from crown to heel. “Why, goddesses? Why?” Exhausted, emptied of all emotion, she crawled into the barn to sleep. The company of the animals provided some solace, as well as the incentive to awaken the next day and continue living.
Hot Chocolate Kiss
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