Word Cloud: GRATEFUL

Word Cloud Resized

by NONA BLYTH CLOUD

thanksgiving_written

For many Americans, it’s feasting on turkey and all the fixings with family and friends, watching football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, and then nodding off with a mild case of indigestion.

This must be the most famous poem about the holiday, first published in 1844, because it became THE Thanksgiving song:

Thanksgiving Day aka
The New-England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving Day

by Lydia Maria Child

Over the river, and through the wood,
To grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood—
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes
And bites the nose
As over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood,
To have a first-rate play.
Hear the bells ring
“Ting-a-ling-ding”,
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood
Trot fast, my dapple-gray!
Spring over the ground,
Like a hunting-hound!
For this is Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood,
And straight through the barn-yard gate.
We seem to go
Extremely slow,—
It is so hard to wait!

Over the river and through the wood—
Now grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun!
Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin-pie!

Over the river and through the woods


But it’s not all good cheer and pumpkin pie.

“It is also November. The noons are more laconic and the sundowns sterner, and the Gibraltar lights make the village foreign. November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”

Emily Dickinson

in a letter to Mrs. J. G. Holland
(Elizabeth Chapin Holland), November, 1864


For recent immigrants, Thanksgiving can be an uneasy balance between embracing a new culture and honoring the traditions of your homeland. Richard Blanco tells us about  his Cuban-exile family’s Thanksgiving in this section of his poem –

América

III.
By seven I had grown suspicious — we were still here.
Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parents didn’t.
We didn’t live in a two-story house
with a maid or a wood-panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marcia;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on the Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke’s family wasn’t like us either—
they didn’t have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn’t have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.

IV.
A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain’s majesty,
“one if by land, two if by sea,”
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the “masses yearning to be free,”
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.

V.
Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamá set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolas,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworth’s.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
“DRY,” Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly—“esa mierda roja,” he called it.
Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie—
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then Abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered—
it was 1970 and 46 degrees—
in América.
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.

jose-acosta-music-and-dance-painting



 

And as the years pass, the people sitting at the table change. Some depart forever. Some come one year but not the next as they split their holidays between their parents and their in-laws. Babies are born and grow up and have families of their own. Until a Thanksgiving comes that finds only two people at the table:

Thanksgiving for Two
by Marjorie Saiser

The adults we call our children will not be arriving
with their children in tow for Thanksgiving.
We must make our feast ourselves,

slice our half-ham, indulge, fill our plates,
potatoes and green beans
carried to our table near the window.

We are the feast, plenty of years,
arguments. I’m thinking the whole bundle of it
rolls out like a white tablecloth. We wanted

to be good company for one another.
Little did we know that first picnic
how this would go. Your hair was thick,

mine long and easy; we climbed a bluff
to look over a storybook plain. We chose
our spot as high as we could, to see

the river and the checkerboard fields.
What we didn’t see was this day, in
our pajamas if we want to,

wrinkled hands strong, wine
in juice glasses, toasting
whatever’s next,

the decades of side-by-side,
our great good luck.

Which is where my husband and I are now. We clear the books and papers off the end of our old farm table from my husband’s parents’ kitchen that doubles as a desk and library table, light a candle for a centerpiece, and bring out just the things we enjoy eating for Thanksgiving, without any concessions to tradition or the tastes of others. And we are grateful for 32 years of marriage and memories and friendship, and the prospect of more years together yet to come. Our Border Collie eagerly but politely awaits her share of the feast, her black noise working avidly.



park-bench-sleeper-charles-m-williams

My heart goes out to all who are alone on Thanksgiving, and especially to those who have no home, no special meal and nowhere to feel safe. In such a rich country, it is cruelly unfair that anyone  should go without, while others have so much more wealth than they could ever need. And I am grateful that I have the freedom to write letters and sign petitions, and make donations and cast my vote to try and change that.

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are and whoever you’re with, even if celebrating this holiday is not part of your tradition. A day to count our blessings is a good thing.



SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:


VISUALS:

  • Painting: “Over The River And Through The Woods” – by Joseph Holodook
  • Painting: “Music and Dance” – by José Acosta
  • Painting: “Park Bench Sleeper”  – by Charles M. Williams
  • Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 45 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband and a bewildered Border Collie.
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