WILLIAMSTOWN -- "This is going to sound weird, but do you have any sage?"
After posing the question to Dodd Dining Hall manager Molly O'Brien, Jackie Pineda, a sophomore at Williams College, explained that she was stuck on campus for Thanksgiving. She had joined forces with her classmate Kim Stroup to prepare a vegan and vegetarian holiday supper for an estimated 19 other students who replied to a Facebook online invitation. They needed a few extra ingredients.
Pineda, who is from Waco, Texas, said she had a flight schedule mishap. For the first time in her life, she wasn't home with her family on Thursday for Thanksgiving dinner.
"I'm really sad, and the campus is so deserted. But I had lunch here today and that was pretty good. Tonight we're going to be cooking in the dorm kitchens and doing dinner in the Hardy House," Pineda said. "It's OK. I really feel badly for the international students. It's so, so sad they have to stay here on the holidays."
Dodd Hall dining services chef and manager Molly O'Brien said an estimated 200 students are on campus through the holiday weekend. "We have a lot of international students and some from across the country from places like Montana who just can't make it home. So we do our best here," she said.
Her staff of eight chefs and dishwashers spent a few days prior planning the menu and preparing some foods. On Thursday, they began cooking at 6 a.m. Among the dishes were eight turkeys, "several pounds" of pecan encrusted fudge, shrimp cocktail, a pumpkin-split pea soup, Florida Mountain turnip, egg nog, hot apple cider, mashed potatoes, various kinds of pie, and more.
"Dodd is the only dining hall open during break. But it's really nice, and the food's really, really good," said Jeff Meng, a junior whose family lives in China. During the summer, his flight takes approximately 14 hours, plus any layovers. So he doesn't leave campus on short breaks.
Instead, he enjoyed several helpings from the dining hall buffet with classmate Ang Li and freshman Wei Sun, also from China. They were joined by Williams math professor Frank Morgan.
For the past "10 years or so," Morgan has chosen to spend Thanksgiving with his students. "I've always enjoyed staying with them," he said.
To give the students something to do over the weekend, the Morgan and fellow Prof. Amanda Beeson posed a Thanksgiving "math conundrum," a puzzle, in which those who solve it have a chance to win a prize basket from Williamstown novelty store Where'd You Get That? (Try your luck with the puzzle at: http://math.williams.edu/connundrum/).
"It's always an interesting experience for our international students. They get to see the campus transformed into a nice, quiet, beautiful, place. Also, it's not a holiday in other countries. Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday," Morgan said.
At the end of their meal, two female students politely interrupted Chef O'Brien's conversation with a reporter. "We just really wanted to say thank you for all the food," one girl said. "It was really nice," the other said. The pair smiled and walked away.
"That," said O'Brien, "is what Thanksgiving's all about."