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HOME > Classical Novels > Being a Boy > VIII THE COMING OF THANKSGIVING
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One of the best things in farming is gathering the chestnuts, hickory-nuts, butternuts, and even beech-nuts, in the late fall, after the frosts have cracked the husks and the high winds have shaken them, and the colored leaves have strewn the ground. On a bright October day, when the air is full of golden sunshine, there is nothing quite so exhilarating as going nutting. Nor is the pleasure of it altogether destroyed for the boy by the consideration that he is making himself useful in obtaining supplies for the winter household. The getting-in of potatoes and corn is a different thing; that is the prose, but nutting is the poetry, of farm life. I am not sure but the boy would find it very irksome, though, if he were obliged to work at nut-gathering in order to procure food for the family. He is [Pg 57] willing to make himself useful in his own way. The Italian boy, who works day after day at a huge pile of pine-cones, pounding and cracking them and taking out the long seeds, which are sold and eaten as we eat nuts (and which are almost as good as pumpkin-seeds, another favorite with the Italians), probably does not see the fun of nutting. Indeed, if the farmer-boy here were set at pounding off the walnut-shucks and opening the prickly chestnut-burs as a task, he would think himself an ill-used boy. What a hardship the prickles in his fingers would be! But now he digs them out with his jack-knife, and he enjoys the process, on the whole. The boy is willing to do any amount of work if it is called play.

In nutting, the squirrel is not more nimble and industrious than the boy. I like to see a crowd of boys swarm over a chestnut-grove; they leave a desert behind them like the seventeen-years locusts. To climb a tree and shake it, to club it, to strip it of its fruit and pass to the next, is the sport of a brief time. I have seen a legion of boys [Pg 58] scamper over our grassplot under the chestnut-trees, each one as active as if he were a new patent picking-machine, sweeping the ground clean of nuts, and disappear over the hill before I could go to the door and speak to them about it. Indeed, I have noticed that boys don't care much for conversation with the owners of fruit-trees. They could speedily make their fortunes if they would work as rapidly in cotton-fields. I have never seen anything like it except a flock of turkeys removing the grasshoppers from a piece of pasture.

Perhaps it is not generally known that we get the idea of some of our best military manoeuvres from the turkey. The deploying of the skirmish-line in advance of an army is one of them. The drum-major of our holiday militia companies is copied exactly from the turkey gobbler; he has the same splendid appearance, the same proud step, and the same martial aspect. The gobbler does not lead his forces in the field, but goes behind them, like the colonel of a regiment, so that he can see every part of the line and direct its movements. This [Pg 59] resemblance is one of the most singular things in natural history. I like to watch the gobbler manoeuvring his forces in a grasshopper-field. He throws out his company of two dozen turkeys in a crescent-shaped skirmish-line, the number disposed at equal distances, while he walks majestically in the rear. They advance rapidly, picking right and left, with military precision, killing the foe and disposing of the dead bodies with the same peck. Nobody has yet discovered how many grasshoppers a turkey will hold; but he is very much like a boy at a Thanksgiving dinner,—he keeps on eating as long as the supplies last.

The gobbler, in one of these raids, does not condescend to grab a single grasshopper,—at least, not while anybody is watching him. But I suppose he makes up for it when his dignity cannot be injured by having spectators of his voracity; perhaps he falls upon the grasshoppers when they are driven into a corner of the field. But he is only fattening himself for destruction; like all greedy persons, he comes to a bad end. [Pg 60] And if the turkeys had any Sunday-school, they would be taught this.

The New England boy used to look forward to Thanksgiving as the great event of the year. He was apt to get stents set him,—so much corn to husk, f............
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