By Betty Mills
Thanksgiving is theoretically a time for universal gratitude, a time to be consciously thankful for the goodness of our lives, which is easier for some of us than others. It is also hard to distinguish the line sometimes between gratitude and entitlement.
How do we assure our children that life is good and it’s okay to invite the friend across the street for supper and also explain about the hungry kid somewhere who would be delighted to eat the spinach they’re rejecting? That maybe the girl in the seat in front of them in school only has one pair of shoes. That not everyone has a car that reliably works.
In the long ago days of my childhood, Thanksgiving was the season when the crops were harvested, the cellar was stacked with food canned for the snowy months of winter, and the annual family celebration was in the planning. The meal was rotated among the families with big enough dining rooms, and the menu always included the turkeys the families had raised.
After the last piece of pie was dished out, the table was cleared for the card game that would decide who did the dishes. As a child I longed for the day I would be declared eligible to get in the game because doing the dishes sounded as much fun as playing the game. I also thought that everyone probably spent Thanksgiving as we did—good food, good games, happy families.
Disillusionment took awhile. Hard to forget the look of horror on my young husband’s face the first time it was my turn to host their family celebration when I explained about the compulsory card game with dishwashing as the prize. There was no longer a game, but the dishes got washed. Then there was the year at the request of a new son-in-law that I made a fresh oyster casserole from scratch—no easy feat in land bound North Dakota—and it failed his taste test.
Sometimes we were down to that so-called nuclear family plus a set of grandparents when one small turkey would do. And then we were nearly childless, college and marriage having broken up that old celebration of ours.
Growing up I had a dozen cousins who lived within reach of the family celebration. My children’s cousins reside from the east coast to the west coast, hardly the agenda for a one day gathering. And nobody raises turkeys.
The theme song for modern life is probably “Life She Is A-Changing” but that does not necessarily mean we are no longer grateful for life’s blessings. We just sometimes need to make a new list.
For example, depositing the dirty dishes in a dishwasher is a lot more fun than cleaning the mashed potato kettle in a kitchen with no running water, my chore the first time I was admitted to the family game—and lost.
If you’ve ever been assigned to catch the celebratory turkey, you’ll understand that lugging an already de-feathered turkey with innards removed from the local store is really an improvement over the good old days. And punching up the thermostat beats shoveling coal into the downstairs furnace any time of the day or night.
I have attended all of my grandchildren’s college graduation ceremonies whereas my grandparents were dead before my parents even met of causes no longer fatal or even common. Does make a reception room wait in the doctor’s office bearable, and upon reflection, a matter for gratitude.
Perhaps there are two aspects to gratitude in this modern world where so much has changed from the Norman Rockwell days. The first is to count our present blessings—even a short list is a good start. The second is to add to the sum of someone else’s list, remembering that the blessings in this world are not equally distributed.
The first Thanksgiving held in this country is changeably mythological by now which means you can’t really ruin Thanksgiving by serving oysters, and inviting that lost soul from the office is in keeping. The real trick is to remember the reason for this season.
Happy Thanksgiving whatever you eat.
Betty Mills was a weekly political columnist for the Bismarck Tribune for 25 years. Among the many blessings in her life, Betty has four children, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.