Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Faith Works 11-22-08
Jeff Gill

When the Frost Is On the Punkin’

James Whitcomb Riley is known as the Hoosier Poet, creator of “Little Orphant Annie” (yes, that’s how he spelled it) and “The Frost Is On the Punkin.”

He’s an acquired taste, though you’re required by state law to acquire it as a schoolchild in Indiana. So I didn’t learn as I should have, being a small Hoosier lad, memorizing dialect doggerel, certain small points of neighboring history. Such as the fact that Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, and later went to West Point having realized that pounding tacks into his trunk lid for arrival at the United States Military Academy would spell the initials “HUG,” so he wisely adopted his mother’s maiden name to create Ulysses Simpson Grant, or “USG,” a much more patriotic abbreviation.

At any rate, I wrongly said here last week that Grant was born in Illinois, and thanks to Gary from Lancaster for catching that online; Galena, Illinois has a home and museum and claims U.S. Grant pretty comprehensively, but he’s born in Ohio (Grant Park in Chicago is named for him, though).

Illinois has a number of politicians that they kind of inherited, like Lincoln (born in Kentucky), Grant (born in Ohio), and Obama (born in Hawaii). All three are associated with the state, but weren’t born there . . . though your faithful scribe was. Who knew?

It’s amazing how many things we know that we don’t know, and don’t know that we think we know. As days get colder in the morning, we may idly cite “the frost is on the pumpkin” whether our gardens grow gourds or not, not ever having heard of old Mr. Riley who wrote over 100 years ago that “O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,/ When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.”

But what is fodder slowly drying on the shock? ‘Tis corn, destined for the crib to feed the stock (that’s the animals on your farm), but preserved best by desiccating while in the field still up on the cornstalk, or “shock.”

Few enough of us are dependent on the fall harvest to feed us through the long, cold, desolate winter. Even so, down in our bones, we have a sense that gathering up food and fat and fodder is a really good idea when the days get short and chill and frosty.

So a good hearty meal with lots of grease and butter and oil has a unique appeal to any of us human creatures in the month of November. And our cultural memory is triggered with spices and dried fruit from August and herbs put up back last April – “Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!... “

We enjoy our gravy and our earthy spices this time of year, and the observations that put our anachronistic meal in context . . . seriously, we don’t raise big birds in the backyard anymore, or even grow gourds in the garden, but we do love Thanksgiving.

And it’s the experience of gathering with neighbors and family known well, and new friends to meet, that makes a Thanksgiving meal taste the best. A community worship service where multiple churches gather together to focus the whole “giving thanks” idea is the best seasoning I know (even if rosemary is every November cook’s secret weapon).

You can go tomorrow, Sunday evening, Nov. 23 at 7:00 to Hebron United Methodist Church if you live in the Lakewood area, or that same night at First Presbyterian Church in Granville; Wednesday, Nov. 26 in Newark is their Community Thanksgiving at Trinity Episcopal.

Somewhere near you is a service where you can join fellow citizens to give thanks this week. Make sure to find your right way to step into and support an ecumenical service in your neck of the woods!

“I don't know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me—
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.”

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and he loves “The Bear Hunt”, too – let him know what you’re thankful for at

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