Plymouth Rock On

This isn’t the first Thanksgiving — but it’s the first one like this


By Maria Johnson

I’ve been thinking a lot about Pilgrims lately.

I started down this road because my younger son was in Massachusetts recently, and he made a special trip to see Plymouth Rock, which was a “What the . . . ?” moment for him because he found out that Plymouth Rock is really small, as tourist rocks go.

I understand the disappointment. Before I saw the historic landmark for the first time, I imagined it would be like the Rock of Gibraltar, a looming outcrop that represented safety and solidity, a sort of “Land ho!” formation.

In fact, it looks like the kind of rock the Pilgrims might have stubbed their toes on, or maybe sat on to take a load off because their Pilgrim shoes were killing them.

Another reason for my son’s reaction was that a couple of gummy worms were stuck to the rock (see photo). It would be inaccurate to say he was disappointed at this. In fact, it bolstered his faith in human nature.

No wonder the Pilgrims thought this rock was special.

Imagine their excitement when — after cramming themselves into dank ships, rocking to-and-fro on the high seas, gnawing on hardtack for months — they finally got to experience dry land . . . and gummy worms. All at once.

I’d have stayed, too.

So there’s that background to explain why I’ve gone Myles Standish lately. There’s also the fact that I’ve been wondering how the heck to host Thanksgiving in the age of COVID.

It occurred to me that maybe I should take a lesson from the first Thanksgiving, which as we all know from our childhood picture books, occurred outdoors at long tables where the Pilgrims and Native Americans mingled around lots of cornucopia to celebrate a bountiful harvest and converse about topics of the day.

Pilgrims: We’re so grateful for your help. Leaving the gummy worms on Plymouth Rock was a special touch, like mints on a pillow. Now, how about a drumstick in exchange for all of your land?

Native Americans: Great. May we have another helping of smallpox, too?

Ah, Thanksgiving conversations.

The point is, they were aerosolizing OUTSIDE, which seems like a good idea for our family this year. We’re expecting six to eight guests, including my elderly mom and some folks who’ve been sharing the air with college students.

The idea of renting a small tent flickered through my mind, so last month I called a local party supply company and spoke to a very nice woman who basically said: “HAHAHAHAHA.”

Her store couldn’t pitch party tents fast enough. Some of the tents had been rented long-term by hospitals offering drive-through COVID tests and by restaurants dishing up take-out meals. The tent manufacturers were back-ordered. Ditto with the makers of gas heaters. Her company had even purchased hand sanitizing stations because the demand for them was so great.


In desperation, I eyed our garage, notable for the fact that after 25 years of living here, we can still fit two cars inside. Still, it’s no glam bay. No epoxy floors, or built-in cabinetry, or drywall interior. We’re talking about exposed studs with bent hooks that hold ladders, bikes, garden tools, golf bags, old skateboards.

In other words, a real-deal family space.

Might it work if we rolled up the garage doors, propped open a side door and set up a couple of electric fans to promote air circulation?

Naturally, we would screen guests as they arrived. They would answer some health questions, then my husband would hold an electric drill near their foreheads and pull the trigger. If they flinched, an indication of normal health, they could proceed.

A vision formed. Roast turkey carved with hedge trimmers; a centerpiece of scented candles and hacksaws; sweet potatoes on a bed of Craftsman wrenches.

In the event, God forbid, that any of our guests should become sick before Thanksgiving, they’d be welcome to join us via a cardboard cutout (thanks for the idea, Major League Baseball) or via Zoom (appreciate the assist, NBA).

For Zoomers, we’d set up a computer monitor at their table and allow for a three-second lag between our “amen” and theirs; our laughter and theirs; our visible discomfort at bad jokes and theirs.

On the subject of politics, no matter who wins the election, the rules would be firm. Any jabs from a Zoomer and we’d mute their square.

Should the barbs come from anyone attending in person, I’d dispatch my husband to the workbench with a sheet of plexiglass — yes, we have some of that, too — and the offender soon would be encased.

The Garage of Gratitude is sounding better and better.

As we all know by now, nothing is off the table this year.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. She can be reached at

Recommended Posts