Friday, November 24, 2017

Post-Thanksgiving Ponder

Growing up in Henderson, Nevada, Thanksgiving was simple. It was a juicy turkey, my mom's delicious and world famous dressing, and (inevitably) her nasty-ass canned cranberry sauce that only my step-dad liked. It usually meant brother home from college, a visit from sister across town, a house full of little brother's neighborhood pals, and the requisite cadre of cousins, uncles, aunts, and  co-workers dropping by to chat, load up on pie, smoke some Chesterfields, pour a generous scotch and water (in a 16 ounce former strawberry jam jar), and generally just enjoy each other's company removed from the normal daily grind of work and responsibility. The one day of the year when everyone really did pitch in to help do the dishes. Simple.

During this day of feasting and football, we never talked about the the pilgrims. We did not discuss the monumental wrongs that have been imposed upon Native Americans. Mine was not a house of prayer, so we didn't do that, either. (Unless Grandma Lumsden was in town, then we laid it on thick.) We were thankful, though. We were not rich. My parents worked hard. We didn't live in as nice a house as I sometimes wished, and we never had a new car. But, we had enough. On this day, we sat around the dining room table (the other 364 days our meals were on TV trays or the coffee table in front of the television) together. Talked about anything and everything as a family. Simple.

Life doesn't seem to be as simple, nowadays though, does it? As much as we would like it to  be, the world is not so simple. The Henderson of my childhood now has a population of close to 300,000 - 17 times larger than when I was a kid.  Four high schools instead of one. There are stop lights now. (Stop lights! WTF?) Our family and friends have spread out, grown apart, passed away, seen their own adventures, grown their own families.

It probably wasn't simple back them, either. I truly don't believe that, in the creation of the American version of Thanksgiving, there was any intentional disrespect towards Native Americans. (We had and have done enough of that since the time the Pilgrims landed and the ensuing conquest of their land.) Point of fact, many other countries celebrate similar thanksgiving holidays that have their roots in secular celebrations, harvest festivals, or religious observations. Strangely, they all happen around the same time of year.  I would like to believe that a given people can "give thanks" for what they have without pissing off a whole culture. But, I'm not sure anymore.

I also have come to kinda doubt what "giving thanks" really means. I have observed over the past few years that Thanks-giving seems more like Thanks-taking. We are grateful for things that have come to us. Possessions we have worked hard enough to buy. Food we are fortunate enough to eat. For bounty, often denied others. For success, unseen by many. Things certainly worthy to be thankful for. But the name of the holiday is, after-all Thanks"giving" not "Thanks-foring,"which to me seems to imply that the thanks should be a thing emanating from us not to us.

Maybe, like mankind itself, holidays might be allowed to evolve into other kinds of things. Christmas has become more secular. July Fourth has become more culinary. Maybe Thanksgiving might be allowed to evolve into something more outward-bound. Maybe the Holiday Season, the season of giving, begins in November with this food-filled, harvest festival that has evolved from a variety of cultures and countries. (Some families don't eat turkey! It's not like it's a rule.) Maybe, through our actions, we can actually turn it into the act, or better, the art of saying "thank you" to people for who they are and what they represent and opposed to the things that we have the good fortune to consume.

I may be arguing for something that already exists. I may be overly concerned with semantics. I've been known to do that. We all may already do this in our own way. The lines in the grocery stores, the angry words on social media, the ongoing argument about the origins of this holiday all seem to deny this, though. Sure we stop just long enough to spend a day with loved ones and eat. But wouldn't it be nice, if sometime during this perennial day of gluttony and familial stress, we look at a loved one - right in the eyes - and say, "Hey, thank you." "Thank you for being you." "Thank you for your spirit."  "Thank you for your talent." "Thank you for your art." "Thank you for being here." "Thank you for that time you helped me fix my sink." "Thank you for being a great (insert relationship here)."

In the spirit of this idea, and with apologies to Mr. Dickens, I will honor Thanksgiving in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. Simple.

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