The wind was cutting when she got off the school bus – coat slung over one arm, balancing what only seemed like all of her Earthly possessions in the other. Her messenger bag filled to bulging, she handed me a paper plate with a grin.
“Here, it's for you,” Ittybit said, smiling a smile that looked as if it was holding back a river of laughter.
I looked down at the plate – a single, white paper circle – and what appeared to be demised candy corn glued to its surface in the shape of a semi-circle.
“I have no idea.”
We are both laughing now.
“Oh good, because for a minute I thought that you had been demoted to kindergarten, which would be surprising considering your recent report card.”
Inside the house, she dumps her things and heads for the place where the TV lives while I contemplate asking the most taboo question of all.
“So … if you don't know what it is … can I throw it away?”
I tried to use the same smile she used when she got off the bus, but the chill of sarcasm must have been completely melted away by the warmth of the wood stove.
I think this because she barely reacted as she stood by the stove with the remote control posed, flipping through channels and warming her backside. But I am quickly proven wrong by her response:
“I don't care if you toss it, but it has a poem on the back that my teacher says I should read to our guests on Thanksgiving. … so … maybe you should read it first.”
Of course, she's fluent in sarcasm. Should have known.
Carefully, I turn the plate over and see the circle of print glued to the back.
It describes the Legend of the Five Kernels, a story about how the pilgrims survived their first winter in America, with a ration of food that on some days equaled only five kernels of corns. In the spring, the pilgrims planted the remaining corn and were able to harvest much food in the fall.
Every Thanksgiving thereafter, the legend says, the pilgrims placed five kernels of corn beside each plate to remind them of their blessings, and to count them.
The first kernel was to signify the beauty of autumn; the next kernel was to remind them of their love for each other; the third to remind them of the family's love; the fourth reminds them of love of friends, specifically the native Americans who helped them survive; and finally, the fifth kernel reminds them of their freedom.
She watched me as I read the back, probably wondering if I'd break down and cry at the sentiment.
It seemed hollow. Like a sentimental piece of history we know to be wrong. Even the tip of the hat to the “Indian brothers” seems like an afterthought and, knowing the generations of oppression that followed, somehow diminishes the freedom the Pilgrims took for themselves.
“Perhaps, next Thanksgiving we will count our blessings with strawberries,” I offer instead, reminding her of a recent trip to Howes Cave and the Iroquois Museum, where the docent gave her ideas for a school project.
Strawberries, she explained, were the first blooming fruit of the new year, and they symbolize a new beginning. They are food, a fruit and medicine. When you were welcomed into a village you were given food, shelter, and your clothes were washed and mended. You were also given a strawberry drink to cleanse your palate and your soul.
“That's a great idea,” she said. “I think we should make our tradition from now on to count our blessings with five strawberries … especially since the dog just ate the candy corn.”