Once again, that most American of holidays is upon us. Thanksgiving. That day may be our finest national holidays because it commemorates nothing. Nor does it beg solemnity for anything.
Doesn’t Thanksgiving typify us? The fourth Thursday in November just insists we wallow in mindless gluttony while passionately pursuing socio-political points as we solidify family grudges.
As the years build, Thanksgiving certainly assumes a greater meaning for me.
Thanksgiving asks for no pomp and garland. In regions enjoying four seasons, dour autumnal colors, gray skies, and markedly lowered temperatures don’t lift our spirits but may induce the onset of some forms of seasonal affective disorder.
Tough listening to the Beach Boys, matching their sunniness, when one sees slate sky through the lattice of barren tree limbs and branches.
Atmospherics aside, Thanksgiving bestows more and more emptiness as the years proceed. Thanks to time claiming them, fewer and fewer relations and friends are present to join our revels.
For the longest the Quarropas roster remained stable. Then, the scythe seemingly only nibbled the edges. As time passed the absent stopped being peripheral figures. They started bearing the names of those who deeply influenced us or with whom we interacted in ever meaningful ways.
Surveying our current society, I’ve concluded the immediate generations succeeding my vast Boomer cohort will lack the single-mindedness of that group of, call them “mentors,” whose striving nurtured and spurred us until our own drive stalled into comfort and made us damned near inert. Naturally I mean the generation who sired, birthed, educated us formally and through “Mother Wit,” our parents, their friends, neighbors near and far in our neighborhoods.
I guess the assemblage could be what we now might recognize as “the village” Hillary Clinton wrote about.
Unlike many of my peers and contemporaries, I never grew so full of myself that after a while, after fooling myself into believing myself worldlier than people who’d endured marginalizing, Jim Crow, the Depression, and World War II. Were we more sophisticated? Yes. Were we smarter? No.
Such an evaluation reminds me of a Richard Pryor punch line. The joke detailed how young, smug know-it-alls regarded elders they believed irrelevant. The humor stems from finally achieving an adult awareness that corrected many youthful misassumptions. Of course another part of the joke is the audiences Pryor directed it at were then subject to the same dismissals as those they once easily ladled. The faces in the mirrors had suddenly become quite familiar.
“They all weren’t old fools!”
The laughter from that punch line always split between rueful acknowledgement and jolting recognition. Ah! Weren’t we lucky to have the profane and funny Richard Pryor as our sage? These times have no one comparable.
Those figures essential to our development, well, all of them phantoms now, resume their vivid presences briefly every end of November. More so than Christmas or Fourth of July, Thanksgiving prompted us to visit more. Plenty was revealed at this time of year through conversing among ourselves, our guests and our hosts. No November passed without its disclosures. Thanksgiving somehow allowed reckonings, clarifications, and refusals to permit the demolition of long-held, tightly-bound, almost cherished, misinterpretations or outright falsehoods.
Erasing Southern memories chiseled in stone was never easy. Or quiet. Once done the dust created in New York seldom lingered. Theirs was a group happy to exile certain portions of the past. Of course. Why not? The present provided so much, while the future may’ve offered more.
Perhaps all the burdens our mentors shouldered while striving awarded them abilities to conjure as much enthusiasm from their todays and tomorrows as they did.
One might think that having endured some of the worst conditions Americans could’ve intentionally inflicted upon another, they would’ve been morose and melancholy by default. Between the casual slurs, the backbreaking toil for coolie wages, the routine denial of achieving the most mundane goals, prevented freedom of movement and settling, thwarted daily by institutional roadblocks which legally suppressed them, who shouldn’t have been justly angry and resentful?
Rather than let it hamstring and sink them, they channeled whatever frustrations into energies which provided life-improving solutions. Yes, it took time and patience and the outcomes were never assured but the efforts to deliver positive change remained constant.
Of all our holidays, Thanksgiving brings them all back to mind.
It is hard for those of us who never went without, accustomed to having had plenty as we comfortably grew up, to imagine lives bereft of what we considered “basics.” Bountiful nutrition. Wardrobes. Above standard housing. Access and entry into higher education. Fairly easy adolescent and teen years ignorant of toil or worry.
Their efforts bequeathed us lives fuller and sweeter than they ever knew. Unfortunately, we never thanked them enough. Worse, we neglected forwarding to subsequent generations the lessons learned, the treasures amassed.
Our elders expressed a satisfaction in living that we had come to take for granted. It still astounds. Whether it be taking meals, buying clothes, cars, household appliances, sipping liquor, or freely speaking their minds among others possessing shared experiences and outlooks, they, compared against our states, reveled in the quotidian lives each had engineered.
Who among them hadn’t attained comfort levels unimaginable during their own adventures into adulthood? That they lived long enough to reach such plateaus must’ve seemed miraculous.
Doubtlessly my Boomer segment is grateful never to have been as tested as our parents. Self-indulgent as we reportedly are, our paths to this point lack the challenges through which we might’ve motivated those following us.
The long-ago Thanksgivings we witnessed our elders celebrate left vivid remembrances. Ours likely won’t.