Stop the clocks: how Twain celebrated Thanksgiving

This cartoon — found in Mark Twain Himself: a Pictorial Biography, thanks to Macy Halford — exposes my beloved Twain as a fellow noise-intolerant freak. Evidently he rose on Thanksgiving night at the cartoonist’s house “to stop the clocks that were interfering with his sleep.”

I myself have gotten out of bed to silence clocks in other people’s houses. I do this so customarily, in fact, that by now my sister would probably be surprised if I left the batteries in her guest room ticker intact. Even in my own apartment, I keep my midcentury-atomic model unplugged more often than not because once I become aware of its ticking I can’t concentrate on eating, talking, writing, or sleeping. Or anything else. I start to feel like a Poe character — I believe it was his timepiece. Yes, his timepiece!

The aversion runs in the family; my father once became so agitated at the sound of a clock in a hotel room that he tore the cord from the wall with such force, we couldn’t get it to restart the next morning. This kind of intolerance is often said to be learned rather than hereditary, but I am actually very distantly related to Twain through both of my dad’s maternal grandparents, who were his fifth cousins once-removed (grandmother) and twice-removed (grandfather), and maybe on my mom’s side too, so who knows?

As for Thanksgiving, Twain described the holiday as “a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for–annually, not oftener–if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.”

See also: Twain and turkeys, via Lizzie; Thanksgiving menus from Twain’s day; Donald Barthelme on Thanksgiving (“Thank you, O Lord, for what we are about to receive. This is surely not a gala concept”); Morgan Meis on Nathaniel Hawthorne as antidote to the triteness of the holiday (“It takes Satan to bring out the true spirit of Thanksgiving”); and Jenny Diski on noise.


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