Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | November 21, 2010

Honey from a Fallen Hive: Jeff’s Last Thanksgiving

Notes from a family email sent to ex-pat brother, November 2008

The evocative phrase “Honey from a fallen hive” came from the Ask Metafilter website, my favorite late night diversion. Questioners write in for advice about the safety of various dubious foodstuffs (mostly involving meats left in trunks of cars or backpacks or on the counter in the blazing sun for days) and the answers, with differing levels of expertise, come from all over. Someone wrote in about a hive that had fallen from a tree outside their apartment, and although the interior was black and tarry, they still wondered if the honey was safe to eat. The phrase has stuck with me for a while and I’ve been wanting an excuse to use it somewhere. Honey from a fallen hive.

There is a lot for which to be thankful this year, a house full of family and a bountiful feast not the least of our blessings.

Jeff finished his 12th of 12 treatments last week. He has been laid pretty low with fatigue but we are happy to have a reprieve from that routine for a time. Rumor has it the next step is an oral regimen of daily pills and one half hour IV every three weeks. A lot different from the 10 hours in the chemo chair he has been enduring every other week since June. And he has been one of the very lucky ones as far as side effects are concerned – mostly debilitating fatigue and some neuropathy -numbness in the toes and fingertips – and lately, food doesn’t taste good. But he has been able to eat, and sleep, mostly, and play guitar and stack firewood and keep up with the news and take photos, and he has cooked a couple of delicious suppers for us. We have even been able to get to Sullivan a few times. Although he is very ill, lots of people don’t have the quality of life he has had these last six months. We are grateful for all of it.

Thanksgiving was last Thursday, and we were cozy at home on Walton Street. We always hosted Thanksgiving dinner when we lived at Torrey Street, but the Walton Street house is a small space for a business and a home, and we haven’t had a lot of parties here. But we moved out the big black and mahogany trestle table he built for the bakery, and moved in the Flanagan dining table, and had 11 for Thanksgiving dinner. And a spectacular dinner it was. The 22 pound bird, lacquered dark gold with sage and rosemary stems tucked under the skin, was the centerpiece, already out on display as family arrived. Even longtime vegetarian Dennis approved and admired. That’s sayin’ something.

Everybody brought food and we had such a feast! The appetizers alone filled the coffee table to overflowing. There was a savory cheese tray featuring bright yellow Bulgarian Bebop, a hot pepper jelly Bob and Tina found that is made with Maine-grown spicy, bright orange Bulgarian Carrot peppers. Mom brought gorgeous seafood of all kinds: shrimp cocktail, smoked oysters, crab dip, coral rolls of silky salmon. We had Emily’s lovely crudite with hummus, olives, and chunks of feta, and Anna baked mushrooms in phyllo. Bob poured champagne into the delicate platinum-rimmed heirloom cocktail glasses – we were wondering what we would ever use them for! – and we tucked into the spread as we listened to Jeff’s Thanksgiving Ipod playlist and watched the fire in the cozy living room.

The dinner was a Maine harvest still life. Many of the vegetables came from our own garden or from our dear friends at farmers’ market who have been so good to us this year. Tears come to my eyes every time I think of the many kindnesses of Ramona, Carolyn, Robin, and Jimmy who have nourished us body and soul all season.

The turkey was roasted on a bed of rainbow carrots that Anna planted back in June, Beckwith Farm leeks, and chunks of giant onions from Snell Family Farm, which gave the pan juices an herby sweetness. Best gravy ever? Maybe so. Snell’s potatoes from our bushel in the cellar were mashed with Jeff’s traditional additions of long-simmered onion and cabbage. No butter needed. Jeff peeled and Anna provided the arm strength to mash the huge pot of potatoes. Bob and Tina brought mashed turnip -yum- and a colorful medley of roasted fall vegetables. There was a giant turban squash roasted whole and filled with dried fruit macerated in hot cider. Emily made a light crunchy salad of beautiful greens, apples, cranberries, and pecans, and Dennis brought his specialty of roasted squash gallettes. These could make the cover of any food magazine: a light eggy yeast dough filled with soft squash flavored with caramelized onion and sage. Do we know how to live or what? Anna’s picture-perfect biscuits, homemade cranberry pear compote, and balsamic glazed homegrown cippolini onions with Sullivan lemon thyme rounded out the meal, along with tasty wines Bob chose for the occasion.

We thought we might never eat again. But then most of us went for a walk (the others had a nap) and came back somehow ready for pie and coffee. Apple, pumpkin, three berry, bourbon pecan and chocolate cream were the choices, but I was happiest with the pretty little Seckel pears poached in a spiced syrup of the reduced cranberry wine that Jeff’s college roommate Bill brings from Nova Scotia when he visits.
And if we were all too full for a pear that night, I can tell you they make a good breakfast too.This year, more than ever, life conspires to remind us to Keep It Simple and appreciate the small things every day. Life is good. We wish you well.
Carrie, Jeff, Anna

“Maybe this is what grace is, the unseen sounds that make you look up. I think it’s why we are here, to see as many chips of blue sky as we can bear.”

-Anne Lamott,
Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith



  1. […] that harkens back to the renowned feast that was Jeff’s last Thanksgiving. Described here in the first thing I wrote about food that was not for a brochure. That sacred Thanksgiving day I […]


  2. […] of people. His illness put all our blessings into stark relief, and we were grateful for all of it. Thanksgiving came, and Christmas. His afflictions gradually grew and grew. He never complained; took each small […]


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