Thanksgiving on the Cape

In Sandwich, Mass.   -- Photo by Andrewrabbott

In Sandwich, Mass.

-- Photo by Andrewrabbott

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

Fairly early on, I started to dislike Thanksgiving. For one thing, it happens in a depressing, lowering time of the year. (Please, New England, join  Canada’s Maritime Provinces in Atlantic  Time so we can have light longer in the afternoon!) For another, the feast segment usually takes place in the afternoon, leaving participants heavy and groggy for the rest of the day. And making the meal requires hours of work by increasingly irascible cooks, servers and cleanup staff. That most Thanksgiving meals contribute to heart disease is a minor matter.

Anyway, when I was about 10 my family, or fragments of it anyway, gave up on Thanksgiving at home, and would journey to the Daniel Webster Inn, in Sandwich on Cape Cod, where my white-haired, very dignified and laconic paternal grandfather, looking like a cross between the poets Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens, would preside with what was probably forced congeniality over the three to five children and four or five other adults. The whole damn thing would take at most two hours, and with the inevitable rationing of food portions at a for-profit establishment, be healthier than what we’d consume at home.

The dinner always included the assertion that we were related to the statesman, orator and, to a certain extent, crook, Daniel Webster.  That’s because a great-great grandfather of my siblings and me was named Daniel Webster Butler.  He was born in Falmouth, the one on Cape Cod, in 1838. The assertion of the Webster kinship was never challenged or researched by anyone in the family until a few years ago, when I discovered it was baloney.

In fact, no one else in the family had the Webster name. Clearly Dan Butler got his middle name because “Black Dan’’ Webster was among the most famous men in America in 1838. And the use of middle surnames  was starting to be very popular, especially in New England.  Maybe a touch of Anglophilia or an effort to suggest genealogical grandeur, however fraudulently. Sort of like someone being named Franklin Roosevelt Jones a century later. But every family has its myths, and some need them….

After the dinner, my grandfather, a widower, would happily drive back alone to his house on West Falmouth Harbor, light up a Parliament, work on a crossword puzzle in a desultory way and occasionally stare at  the lights on freighters in Buzzards Bay, on the other side of the breakwater and, presumably ruminate on the transience of everything, including families.