Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Biscuit City Chronicle--Turkeys for Thanksgiving and Shining Sickles

I like Thanksgiving. It’s one of the last holidays unsullied by greed, commercialism and the card companies (although they are making inroads, I see). I even enjoyed the special Thanksgiving school lunch when I taught, maybe because I usually ended up with about ten minutes to choke down a sandwich most days. I made a special effort to make it to the cafeteria for the meal and choked it down in ten minutes. I was rhapsodizing about the lunch to one of my classes when a student did a quick reality check. “Hey,” he said. “It’s still a school lunch.” Well, it was, but it just cost a couple of bucks, and I didn’t have to fix it. With our Thanksgiving meal, since we have excellent cooks in the family, I’m allowed to make the iced tea, even though I can cook under ordinary circumstances. Everyone has a signature dish that she brings. Our daughter Amy, for example, brings the green bean casserole (GBC). There’s a rumor that we might have Twinkies for dessert this year, but I hope that’s only a rumor. The pies done by my sister-in-law Sue are to die for. And Becky makes real mashed potatoes by peeling them and boiling and then mashing them. (There’s a little recipe with your Biscuit this morning.)

I have fond memories of Thanksgiving when I was in elementary school, although they are fragmentary. In sixth grade, our class presented the Thanksgiving play. Maybe because I was in the elite Bluebirds Reading Group, I was pickled to play the role of Father in our deathless production of Turkeys for Thanksgiving, which was an indication of the quality of the play and of the acting. It marked my drama debut—and swan song. The play (in case you never get to see it, if you’re lucky) followed the misadventures of a benighted family who managed to buy four turkeys, all unbeknownst to each other until the finally scene, in which they had a good laugh and actually sat down to eat all four of the birds.

Although I delivered my lines flawlessly and engaged in broad farcical mugging required by the part, the whole enterprise made me nervous, and sucking on my father’s unlit pipe when I held in my mouth as a prop made me sick at intermission. I resolved while throwing up to abandon then and there my nascent acting career and return to my dream of being a bush pilot. At least bush pilots died heroically, plunging to the frozen tundra in a ball of fire, not by losing their lunch over an elementary school toilet.

Another clear memory I have of Thanksgiving was a song we used to sing called, I believe, “Swing the Shining Sickle.” We sang it complete with illustrative motions:

            Swing the shining sickle, cut the rip’ning grain.
            Flash it in the sunlight, swing it once again.
            Tie the golden grain-heads into shining sheaves,
            Beautiful their colors as the autumn leaves.

We had no idea what a sickle was, and now the thought of thirty fourth graders swinging shining sickles makes me blanche. We lived the song, though, because we had no earthly idea how hard it was to cut anything with a sickle. Now, I had occasion to cut one of my appendages rather than any rip’ning grain. Maybe as a future  English major, I liked words like “rip’ning” and “o’er” and the rather forced meter  of the song.  Maybe I liked being able to move around in the classroom. I asked my wife, who is a walking compendium of children’s song if she had ever heard the song after I sang it for her, complete with motions. She allowed as how she had never heard it, but I was vindicated when we had dinner some years later with two of her piano teachers, who of course, knew hundreds if not thousands of children’s songs. I asked them if they had ever heard of “Swing the Shining Sickle,” and they both started singing it! Triumph!

A couple of years later I found a copy of the Silver-Burdett song book we used, Music Now and Long Ago, and there it was, on page 149. I’ve put it at the head of this post in case you’d like to sing it at your holiday gathering. You can come up with some good motions for it, I’m sure.

And so, I wish all of you out there in Biscuit City a happy and thankful Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for, including elementary school Thanksgiving plays and Thanksgiving songs. Enjoy!


  1. I also sang this song in grade school music class and it still comes to my mind at this time of year. I even remember the picture you posted of the song from a music book called "Music Near and Far". Pretty funny that the piano teachers both knew it too !

  2. I recently came across a hand written booklet of songs from 1907 that belonged to my Great-Aunt Helen Wood. She was 10 years old and living in Holly Michigan at the time. This song was in there and I so appreciate fining the tune. I am introducing to the family this year at Thanksgiving with special thanks for the ancestors who went before us and their legacies.