Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

It's easy to be cynical on America's great feast day.

Not long after the Pilgrims invited the neighboring Indians to dinner they began to slaughter them and didn't stop until the land, "from sea to shining sea," had been turned into a shopping mall. Each year the President "pardons" a turkey in a festive ceremony at the White House, but millions of the bird's cousins are roasted and eaten at gatherings of families and friends (except for Brigitte and John who dine on tofurkey). Ben Franklin nominated the turkey to be America's national bird (but it lost out to the bald eagle). The big bird found in New England was misnamed by settlers for the guinea fowl Turkish merchants had brought to Europe. Noticeably stupid, the turkey will drink rain until it drowns. According to one source, "turkey" has become a synonym for, "One deficient in judgment and good sense: ass, fool, idiot, imbecile, jackass, mooncalf, moron, nincompoop, ninny, nitwit, simple, simpleton, softhead, tomfool. Informal: dope, gander, goose. Slang: cretin, ding-dong, dip, goof, jerk, nerd, schmo, schmuck."

Thanksgiving is also considered a "Day of Mourning" by Native Americans who have gathered for over thirty years at Coles Hill overlooking the famous rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to remember the destruction of native people and their culture that stood in the way of Manifest Destiny. Invited to give a speech at the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing in 1970, Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, an elder of the Wampanoag tribe and a Native American activist, submitted a speech to the sponsors that was deemed inappropriate.
We forfeited our country. Our lands have fallen into the hands of the aggressor. We have allowed the white man to keep us on our knees. What has happened cannot be changed, but today we must work towards a more humane America, a more Indian America, where men and nature once again are important; where the Indian values of honor, truth, and brotherhood prevail.
Denied a place at the celebratory table, Wamsutta and his supporters withdrew to Coles Hill where they continue to mourn the first Thanksgiving today.

But cynicism is a cheap shot on a day dedicated to giving thanks. Awakening to a bright sunny morning in Bangkok, after ruminating on the disgraceful conduct of the human species in general, my thoughts turned more specifically to family and friends back in the U.S., all still sleeping at this hour. I think about Sandy, assisted by Gaylian, preparing her annual sumptuous feast, a bounty to rival anything Martha Stewart might dream up. I am sorry I will not be joining them, Chris and Kevin, and their extended family and friends. I remember Shirlee and can imagine her today presiding over a large table loaded with culinary delights, surrounded by David and her children and grandchildren (the great-grandchildren are living out of state). I have spent many Thanksgivings in their company. Luke, enjoying the year's first New England snowfall, has gone to Connecticut for Thanksgiving with his mother and step-father in their rural farmhouse. Molly and Nick are no doubt going to their mother's house in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I can recall dozens of Thanksgivings past, when, as stuffed with food as the turkey had been stuffed with dressing, I rested in the bosom of family and friends, my parents long gone, children and wives now ex, high school and college buddies (some recently deceased), companions of the heart and mind. Gratefulness comes easy at such times. I am thankful for the cards I have been dealt, the lives I have led, the children I have fathered, the friends I have had.

I am not sure if there are any turkeys in Thailand. Ducks and chickens, yes, but turkeys would probably drown here in the rice paddies. Or perhaps they were killed off by bird flu. I did a Google search on "thanksgiving bangkok" and came up with a few restaurants providing the traditional meal. I doubt that Jerry, who has renounced his American membership, in mind if not deed, will want to join me. Dr. Holly is still in Laos. That pretty much exhausts my list of American friends. Probably I will go to the buffet at Bully's Pub for an afternoon meal. I know that I will miss every one of you as I slurp cranberries, gnaw on a turkey leg bone and devour my slice of pumpkin pie.

1 comment:

littlebang said...

I wish I had known - we could have arranged a Thanksgiving thing. Before midday though of course :)
This story makes me think of the Tibetans who have lost their country in much the same irreversible fashion as the native Indians of America. In Britain of course, we don't celebrate thanksgiving, but we do have Guy Fawkes night on Nov 5th. I guess we prefer events we don't have to spend with our family ...