The Volunteer’s Thanksgiving” explores a theme common in works about war: a soldier’s homesickness during an important family holiday. Lucy Larcom—who first published her poetry in the magazines featuring works by operatives in the Lowell, Massachusetts, textile mills— was one of the founding editors of Our Young Folks. This poem weaves the details of the stereotypical 19th-century New England Thanksgiving through a patriotic message of perseverance and hope that must have been heartening to readers weary of war. The “squares of pumpkin” pie reminds us that home bakers often made their pies square or rectangular; by the 1860s, the square pie seems to have been associated with simple rural living, while round pies were more “citified.”
“The Volunteer’s Thanksgiving,” by Lucy Larcom (from Our Young Folks; January 1865, pp. 7-8)

The last days of November, and everything so green!

A finer bit of country my eyes have never seen.

’T will be a thing to tell of, ten years or twenty hence,

How I came down to Georgia at Uncle Sam’s expense.

Four years ago this winter, up at the district school,

I wrote all day, and ciphered, perched on a white-pine stool;

And studied in my atlas the boundaries of the States,

And learn the wars with England, the history and the dates.

Then little I expected to travel in such haste

Along the lines my fingers and fancy often traced,

To bear a soldier’s knapsack, and face the cannon’s mouth,

And help to save for Freedom the lovely, perjured South.

That red, old-fashioned school-house! what winds came sweeping through

Its doors from bald Monadnock, and from the mountains blue

That slope off south and eastward beyond the Merrimack!

O pleasant Northern river, your music calls me back

To where the pines are humming the slow notes of their psalm

Around a shady farm-house, half hid within their calm,

Reflecting in the river a picture not so bright

As these verandahed mansions,—but yet my heart’s delight.

They ’re sitting at the table this clear Thanksgiving noon;

I smell the crispy turkey, the pies will come in soon,—

The golden squares of pumpkin, the flaky rounds of mince,

Behind the barberry syrups, the cranberry and the quince.

Be sure my mouth does water,—but then I am content

To stay and do the errand on which I have been sent.

A soldier must n’t grumble at salt beef and hard-tack:

We ’ll have a grand Thanksgiving if ever we get back!

p. 8

I ’m very sure they ’ll miss me at dinner-time to-day,

For I was good at stowing their provender away.

When mother clears the table, and wipes the platters bright,

She ’ll say, “I hope my baby don’t lose his appetite!”

But oh! the after-dinner! I miss that most of all,—

The shooting at the targets, the jolly game of ball,

And then the long wood-ramble! We climbed, and slid, and ran,—

We and the neighbor-children,—and one was Mary Ann,

Who (as I did n’t mention) sat next to me at school;

Sometimes I had to show her the way to work the rule

Of Ratio and Proportion, and do upon her slate

Those long, hard sums that puzzle a merry maiden’s pate.

I wonder if they ’re going across the hills to-day;

And up the cliffs I wonder what boy will lead the way;

And if they ’ll gather fern-leaves and checkerberries red,

And who will put a garland of ground-pine on her head.

O dear! the air grows sultry: I ’d wish myself at home

Were it a whit less noble, the cause for which I ’ve come.

Four years ago a school-boy; as foolish now as then!

But greatly they don’t differ, I fancy,—boys and men.

I ’m just nineteen to-morrow, and I shall surely stay

For Freedom’s final battle, be it until I ’m gray,

Unless a Southern bullet should take me off my feet.—

There ’s nothing left to live for, if Rebeldom should beat;

For home and love and honor and freedom are at stake,

And life may well be given for our dear Union’s sake;

So reads the Proclamation, and so the sermon ran;

Do ministers and people feel it as soldiers can?

When will it all be ended? ’T is not in youth to hold

In quietness and patience, like people grave and old:

A year? three? four? or seven?—O then, when I return,

Put on a big log, mother, and let it blaze and burn,

And roast your fattest turkey, bake all the pies you can,

And, if she is n’t married, invite in Mary Ann!

Hang flags from every window! we ’ll all be glad and gay,

For Peace will light the country on that Thanksgiving Day.

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
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