Finally, Thanksgiving is here. My dinner table is already groaning in anticipation of the load it must bear later today, as my Zsu-Zsu is hard at work in the kitchen preparing the beast and the bird for the feast to come.
We have both prime rib and turkey on Thanksgiving — a nod to some of our guests’ dislike for the ceremonial bird. Fine with me. There are always enough leftovers for prime rib sandwiches and turkey casserole the next day. We celebrate Thanksgiving all weekend long at my house, and I’m always sad to eat that last bit of jello mold or cranberry sauce — I savor the last morsels as they disappear with a satisfying gulp.
Allow me to share my secret Thanksgiving desire. I wish to go through an entire Thanksgiving Day without reading in a newspaper, seeing on the internet, or have anyone mention to me that Native Americans have nothing to be thankful for today, that they are in mourning, and that it’s my fault.
That last is figuratively speaking, of course. It was “my ancestors” — white ancestors — who are directly responsible. The fact that, at the time of the first Thanksgiving, my ancestors were in Ireland scratching out a living by farming a space about the size of a suburban backyard, eating turnips and barley porridge just to keep hearth and home together, apparently doesn’t matter.
Applying collective guilt to an entire race is not seen as stupidity but rather “justice” by those who can’t stand seeing people happy and contented. For some, it is a special thrill to hector us on Thanksgiving about sins committed long ago by people they cannot fathom against a people who they will never understand.
The complex relationship between the Europeans who arrived on the Mayflower and the Wampanoag tribe is reduced to the ridiculously cartoonish by the holiday trashers. Indians — good. White man — bad. That is the extent of the nuance in most of their arguments.
But what we fail to appreciate about the Pilgrims is that they were not explorers or people inured to hardship. They were country folk from the Midlands of England — most of them were not farmers or possessing the skills necessary to begin a colony. They were simple townsfolk whose separatist ideas about the Church of England landed them in trouble with the authorities — so much so that they were driven out of the country. First to Holland, where their religious views were tolerated but where parents were concerned that the children were losing their essential “Englishness” and pined for the homeland. That’s when William Bradford made a deal with the London Company for a land patent in America and the crossing was planned.
So here they were, arriving in the waters of the New World in early November 1620, but not making a landing until nearly a month later. It was then that they began to hack a civilization out of the wilderness. Whatever skills they had with the ax or hammer they were forced to perfect while constructing a few rough-hewn buildings over the winter of 1620-21. Only 47 of the original 102 Pilgrims who began the crossing survived to see that first spring, the rest dying off as a result of disease brought on by being poorly adapted to the much harsher climate of Massachusetts.
The Mayflower stuck around until April 1621, supplying the colonists with whatever food they couldn’t beg for, trade for, or steal from the Indians. They were poor hunters and had few firelocks, and since they were not familiar with the local fauna, they were unable to procure food through the gathering of nuts and berries as the native Americans did. The Indians worked diligently to remedy this and by the summer of 1621, the Pilgrims were nearly self-sufficient.