By Allen Hamrick
Thanksgiving is traditionally the day we give thanks for the things we have and for bloated stomachs when the last taste of turkey and ham are gone for another year. Many stories have been handed down through generations as to just how this day got started. One thing is certain, Thanksgiving is a day that, even if you have nothing but a cup of steaming coffee and a bowl of soup, a person ponders, daydreams and reflects on what their life was, is and where it’s going.
As one takes that next spoonful of meatloaf soup emotions run high at the prospects of a better bowl the next time while others have a king’s ransom of food with all the turkey, ham, and potato salad one can stuff in their gut. Afterwards, pies, cakes, and whatever other sugar raising recipe the apron wielding cooks prepare are offered. Most of the time, once the meal has been prepared, eaten and all the return trips to the smorgasbord are over, the first horizontal place you can lay your head and the new stomach you formed is priority. The TV is turned on by the one closest one to the remote, and channel 13, where the Bears and the Packers are fighting it out on a snow packed field, is chosen. The cooks who slaved over the stove for three days in preparation for the feast are now in clean up mode all the while complaining to those who have no ears to hear because the home is filled with the snores of content men with content bellies before the first quarter was over. In whatever situation you are in, the utmost main concern is to give thanks for what you have and not wish for what everybody else has. Keep this in mind as you belly up to that plate that looks like a hubcap heaped with the blessings you have been given, and it’s not always about the food.
The story of Thanksgiving has been handed down through the generations of families and has changed to suit the times. Each November, the story of the original “Thanksgiving” is heralded in schools as told by costumed children around the country; well, at least it used to be. Has the turkey always been the go to meat for tables? When exactly was the first Thanksgiving or does anybody even care anymore? The original day of thanksgiving was in 1621 – a big event with food, dancing and the idea that Native people and pilgrims could come together as one, if for just a little while.
To the Native peoples, giving thanks was a way of life much as it was to the Englander. Winters of the early 1600’s dealt out some of the worst storms where snow was measured in feet, not inches, by the new settlers. The ships they travelled on became their homes and soon were overcrowded due to a lack of housing, many folks died before they ever realized their dreams of a new land. The Native people were avid hunters and farmers and knew to store up meat and vegetables, a daily chore in order to survive the harsh winters. After a treaty was signed, the Wampanoag taught the settlers to fish and hunt. The Grand Sachem’s Council Feast was held due to an abundance of food, and the chief known as Massasoit came with 90 Wampanoag men. They brought five deer, fish, all the food and the cooks.
It was a great time, but as it has been said, all good things come to an end. When a simple life becomes complicated and the signed treaty did not last long, the story of the first Thanksgiving became only legend of a time when peace was enjoyed by all.
In 1637, the official “day of Thanksgiving” was proclaimed by Governor John Winthrop. He announced it because the English colonists had just returned from massacring and burning an entire Pequot village where between 400 and 700 women, children and elderly men brutally died. The rest is history from that point on. The Native peoples were removed from the lives they lived year after year until life has become what we know today.
This is not to throw a damper on Thanksgiving as we sit around the table with our families but to also remember what Thanksgiving was all about in the original story. There should be no respecter of persons, no matter if they are widows, orphans, elderly – all should be taken care of equally. In those days, no matter how scarce the food was, as long as there was food all enjoyed a part of it. Buffalo Bill once said, “The American Indian was some of the most generous of mortals. At all their dances and feasts, the widow and the orphan are the first to be remembered. They never broke a treaty, and we never kept one.”
Remember the ways of our ancestors; it may just shed some light on the things we should really be thankful for. As our times get crazier every day, we need to remember it isn’t what we have but what we can do that allows life as we know and love to go on whether we have a lot or a little. One of Jerry Reed’s songs said it best, and I love the quote because of the truth it holds. “Gold can’t buy the things we really need, so just look my friend. There’s happiness in living, somewhere between broke and being free.” It is the things we can’t buy that we forget about so easy, and those are the things we truly need to be thankful for. Now, where is that black Friday advertisement?