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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Personal Thoughts

New Yearís Day with its Past

January 2021

New Year’s Day was an important one in my family. Each year for our birthday dinner, my mother let the person choose the dinner menu. Since January 1 was my father’s birthday and turkey his favorite, every year New Year’s Day dinner was a repeat of the full-on Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner—turkey with dressing, mashed potatoes, peas, parsnips, gravy, cranberry sauce, and, at each person’s place, the little silver dish with blanched almonds, dinner ending with pumpkin pie and sometimes a choice of mincemeat too. Only the cranberry sauce came from a can. This was quite a feat for my mother who hated to cook. She followed my father’s wishes for his dinner but not without annual comment. None of us complained though. That’s my New Year’s Day with its past.  Think of the festivity of the day and later the turkey sandwiches and soup for the next week. Being a large family, every turkey was a 25-pounder.

She always ordered one from the butcher and, although plucked, we needed to pull out the pinfeathers, a job I loved no matter how young or old I was. She wanted the neck left attached and all of the innards included for the giblet-heart-liver gravy.

A memorable year was our first Thanksgiving when we lived in Orono, Maine. The butcher worked in the shop at the university’s agricultural department. One year, the butcher had left a knife inside the turkey. We laughed at that and the following Monday, she went to return it.

“No,” he said. “You bought the turkey by the pound. You bought the knife.”  I have that knife in my kitchen in the Oregon house. I have two other knives like it, one in Alaska and the other one from my in-laws in the Oregon house. The Orono turkey knife is unique with its handle wrapped in twine, the twine now of at least seventy-one years of life.

I bought a turkey for this season too. We skipped Christmas dinner and will skip New Year’s Day dinner this year too. We’ll have it sometime that following week. It’s a 13-pounder for my husband, cousin-in-law, and me.

This year’s New Year’s Day has a different past though. We will celebrate being together, telling family stories, and laughing. We’ll have dinner after dark. I’ll aim for 3:30 so we have plenty of time to chat afterwards. We will celebrate living in the small, isolated town of Gustavus, off the road system, accessible by plane or boat. We will celebrate our health, our isolation, our friendship, our good fortune as 2021 begins. We’ll talk about the relatives all of whom are still safe and healthy. We’ll also talk about those who have died. When on most days we see no one outside of our house or walk the road or hike a trail, we celebrate how fortunate we are. My husband and I stay six feet apart from others. We’ll acknowledge two of Judy’s sled dogs that I know she’ll bring. One of them recently became the first four-legged visitor in my study in eight years. Even my own dogs were never allowed in here. Lucky dog, Osa.

We will talk about those less fortunate than we are—those who live in a small or big city and have trouble staying six feet apart when walking on a sidewalk or in a store. We will wonder about those who don’t wear a mask or who won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine. I suppose it’s because they don’t believe in science. I want to ask them if they have electricity in their home, if they drive a car or take a bus, or if they heat the house by some other means other than wood they cut, chop, and store. I want to ask them if they’ve ever been to a doctor. If they do any of these things, then why don’t they believe in the science, which has brought them these conveniences?

I also want to tell them that it’s not a question of belief in science. Science gives facts and thus is not a question of belief. Something proven by or developed by science is not a question of belief. Last summer I had a conversation with a neighbor that went something like this.

“Wearing a mask protects you and others.”

“I don’t believe in the virus.”

“Science tells us that COVID-19 is contagious.”

“I don’t believe in science.”

Oh dear. I wanted to tell him that science is not a matter of belief but of facts. I wanted to tell him that it is knowledge of science that tells us why the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. I wanted to tell him that he has electricity in his house because of science. I didn’t because I knew it was useless. Anyone who says s/he does not believe in science…. I think I’ll find someone else to talk to.

As we start 2021, I hope people remember something from their elementary and high school science classes. I hope they listen to the doctors and epidemiologists of the world. I hope they listen to those who have had COVID-19 and recovered. I hope they acknowledge those who have lost loved ones—a spouse, parent, or a child—to this pandemic of COVID-19. They don’t need to know the world history of periodic pandemics. They just need to listen to the scientific facts of this one and behave accordingly.

I used to have a slightly different strain of a similar conversation with elementary students when I was a principal. My office looked out onto the only four-lane road with an elementary alongside it.

“But so-and-so told me to do it.”

“ If he told you to go lie down in the middle of Topeka Boulevard, would you do it,” I asked as traffic went by at 40 miles an hour.

Horrified by the thought of being run over by a car or semi, he always said, “No!”

“Then don’t do whatever someone else tells you to do.”

In the middle of an active and aggressive pandemic, don’t follow the ‘I won’t wear a mask’ that some follow and tell you they’re safe and so will you be. Listen to the medical profession and use your common sense to protect yourself, your loved ones, and others.


Let’s make 2021 a healthier and safer year.


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