When I first signed up to volunteer for “Many Thanksgivings,” I imagined I’d be helping the kids make crafts. Corn husk dolls. Cunning pouches. Maybe even that game my son kept for years that was just a simple circle tied to a string that was then tied to a stick.
I’ve been known to be crafty. I could handle that.
I should have remembered we were dealing with Jenn karma.
That’s right. Today, I was the lady who spend all morning helping your children identify and stroke dead animal skins.
This is not to complain about my assignment. I thought it was hysterical, although I’m now convinced I’m allergic to something that was on my table (lynx? fox? coyote?) because I came home for lunch and my eyes and nose haven’t stopped running since. Good thing I didn’t have an assignment for the afternoon.
Anyway, “Many Thanksgivings,” Grafton Elementary’s third grade exploration of the Pilgrim and Native American world, was originally set for December, but the ice storm caused it to be postponed until the new year. January may not seem to be a very festive time for Thanksgiving, but the kids seemed to be enjoying it, even if they didn’t eat much of the beef jerky that was set out for snack (the cornbread, on the other hand, was a hit).
Speaking of corn…
Third graders can get terribly aggressive when grinding corn. I mean, who knew? After each group was finished pounding on their dried corn kernels, the other mother and I had to first push the table back into position over the tarp, then attempt to control some of the corn dust and corn bits that had settled around the entire station.
Hunters took the ground up corn and brought it along as a high energy snack, “like a Power Bar,” as the other mom kept telling the kids.
We figured the kids would give it a few grinds and then give up because it was hard, but some of them could have happily stayed and pounded on corn all day.
Meanwhile, back at my end of the table:
KIDS: “Oh my god, are these real?”
ME: “Yes, they’re real.”
KIDS: “Real DEAD ANIMALS?!!”
“This feels like my bunny. Oh my god, it’s a rabbit.”
“Did you kill all these yourself?”
ME: “No, I didn’t kill them, do I look like I’d kill things?”
KIDS: “Are these teeth sharp?”
ME: “Please don’t touch the skulls.”
KIDS: “Hey, look, fox butt.”
“Are those real eyes?”
ME: “No, they’re just for decoration. Please don’t put your hand in the coyote’s mouth.”
KIDS: (Girl, in near tears) “Why did you kill these?”
ME: “I didn’t kill them! I’m just a parent volunteer!”
KIDS: “How did you get all this hair on the leather?”
ME: The hair is attached to the skin. When skin is tanned, which means treated and dried like these are, it’s leather. This just still has the skin on.
KIDS: “No, you’re lying, our couch is leather and you can’t kill couches.”
Of course, explaining the many uses for dead animals (my favorite, from the little paragraph they gave me to read, was the note that Native Americans tied sticks to deer antlers to use as a rake) was not the oddest assignment.
That definitely goes to the mom who got to explain “scat,” with a straight face, to class after class of giggly third graders.
This, of course, was part of a station that explained how hunters tracked their prey and how to identify different types of animal prints.
The kids also planted the “three sisters” — corn, beans and squash — in paper cups to take home later. Comment from the mom at that station as she swept the floor: “Every class, there’s the one kid who has to dump the cup of soil.”
They also learned symbols used by Wampanogs.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the significance of all the scarves the kids are sporting — they spent a good part of November weaving them in class for this day. Some of the kids used them as belts, others draped them across their chests, beauty pageant style.
It was really an interesting day to observe, and I know my daughter got a lot out of it. She’s been showing me her crafts since she got home and went on a long spiel about the things she learned from the guides who visited from Plimoth Plantation.
But for me, this is my eternal memory of Many Thanksgivings:
Lots of children. Playing with dead things.
I’m telling you, it’s totally a Jenn karma kind of thing.