Thanksgiving tales: Wild dogs, garage fires and smuggled rings

When my wife and I first met, we celebrated Thanksgiving in a nontraditional way.

We’d head to a rented house, perhaps in Saranac Lake, New York, or Providence, Rhode Island, and spend the week there with friends and family. It was our vacation for the year, something we saved for and planned well in advance.

The week would build up to Thanksgiving and an elaborate and extravagant dinner.

Wednesday evening would start with hors d’oeuvres and drinks after a long day of preparation. Thanksgiving dinner was served at midnight and the feast would run into the early hours of Thursday morning. Thanksgiving Day was set aside for recuperation and leftovers.

The event was a celebration of the year and of the people we loved – those who were present and those who weren’t. It was a time to connect and recharge. To toast one another and tell stories.

Every few years, we’d try to make the trip into a bigger affair.

In 1997, our annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage found us in the in the village of La Roque-Gageac in the Dordogne River Valley of France.

The village is tucked in between the Dordogne River and limestone cliffs, built straight up from the water’s edge. People have lived on the site since prehistoric times and some of the village’s structures date back to the 12th Century.

The village, like Wiscasset, makes all the lists of the most beautiful villages. The picture of that little town is forever burned in my memory.

It was there, in the courtyard of an ancient church that I proposed to my wife, Erin, and she accepted. I had to slip away from her pesky little brother – now a new father himself – who was in tow.

I got down on one knee, shaking like a leaf. Pulled out the small diamond ring, which I carried in my pocket for days, including on the plane where I felt like a jewel smuggler, and asked her to marry me. She did not cry; she did say yes. (She may tell this story a little differently.)

There was a lot to be thankful for that year. And we dominated the toasts. #winning.

As we’ve gotten older and the kids have come along, the idea of a midnight dinner seems like a foggy dream. An impossibility. These days, I can’t make it to the end of Monday Night Football unless the Patriots are playing, and even then it’s no sure thing.

And the big trips have been replaced with a smaller, tamer family dinner on Thanksgiving Day.

There are still toasts offered, but the late-night soirees have been replaced with epic Ping Pong tournaments, deer hunts and dog walks.

The excitement of different places and a big dinner parties have been replaced with different, more domestic adventures.

Ozzy, the big black dog. Photo courtesy of David Farmer

One year, my big, dumb black dog fell in love with a neighbor’s horse and chased a bunch of chickens. The chickens got away.

Another, we tried to cook the turkey in a garbage can and managed to set the nearby garage on fire. Needless to say, I was a hero that year, risked life and limb and saved untold catastrophe. (Don’t bother fact checking. Accounts may vary.)

Let’s just say that the garage was more cooked than the turkey that year. The recipe says the “results are amazing.”

Yes, the results were amazing.

Another year, we stashed the leftover ham and turkey in the garage where it was cool. The refrigerator was full. We also locked my big, dumb black dog and my brother-in-law’s dog in the garage to get them out of the house (and keep them away from the chickens down the street).

The roof of the car is not a dog-proof location for ham and turkey. The hounds enjoyed a fine meal. We were left peas and onions and sausage stuffing for leftovers and the car looked like it had rolled through 30 strands of barbed wire.

Turns out, my big black dog wasn’t as dumb as his owner.

Whether it’s disasters averted or the beginning of a 19-year marriage, Thanksgiving has been a lucky holiday for me.

This year, we’ll be with family in Holden and we’ll raise a glass or 10 to all the people we love, those who are there and those who aren’t. We’ll tell stories and maybe the kids will knock off the old coots at Ping Pong.

And maybe we won’t burn the place down.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at