Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The First Thanksgiving: A Historical Retrospective

The First Thanksgiving: A Historical Retrospective

Before I reveal the little known details, details concealed in newly discovered parchment scrolls long buried beneath Plymouth Rock, of the first Thanksgiving dinner, it is important that I establish my credentials lest you think I made this up. I have a hard-earned college degree, hard-earned while raising a toddler, in history and political science. I learned to skillfully negotiate the twisted labyrinths of research.

Potential starvation has been known to motivate creative solutions. The Pilgrims, and here I must entertain an interesting digression—along the ever-shifting American frontier the word “Pilgrim” has denoted a tenderfoot, a naïf, one ill-suited to the rigors or conditions of life, yes, that definition aptly describes the subjects of our disquisition, these first Pilgrims were indeed ill-prepared for the rigors of life on their New Frontier.

Let’s dispense with the riff-raff of detail and cut to the chase. The little band of settlers was desperate. Winter, due to arrive any day, galloped down from the north. Their store house, built in haste in anticipation of the fruits of the first harvest, held no fruits, no vegetables, no smoked or salted carcasses. No moose, no deer, no succulent beef, no pork, no chickens, no eggs. In greed or in haste, the seed for crops, the few chickens and pigs that accompanied the settlers on the long voyage across the vast Atlantic had been devoured.

The men, devout in every fiber of their being, sought solution in their house of prayer, where every community issue was debated and every decision hard fought. One might speculate that the men might have put their energy to better use beating the brush for the abundance of wildlife inhabiting the woods. But who are we to sit in judgment.

The women, huddled together in a lean-to shelter, took turns stirring a watery broth in a huge iron kettle over an open fire, trying to coax a rag, a bone and a hank of hair into an edible soup.

“Oh, woe is me, what shall we do. We shall starve while our men spend endless days in yon Congress endlessly devising laws and establishing political parties and the NFL.”

“Dame Verity is right. We are doomed. Why did we ever leave yon golden shores of home, the true land of milk and honey and Walmart and Hostess Twinkies.”

Up spoke Dame Goodheart, “Fear not, my brave sisters for I have an idea. “We shall announce a pot luck dinner and invite our neighbors.”

“What is pot luck? What neighbors? Surely you don’t mean those fearsome savages? “

“While we waste away to skin and bone and no decent cannibal would give us a second glance, we are surrounded by well-fed, vigorous warriors, their women strong and healthy, their children fat and full of laughter. These be our neighbors. We will send word on the moccasin telegraph of our huge celebration and Christmas Crafts sale. They will bring to the feast haunches of venison, canoes full of squash and corn, rafts of prairie chickens, Indian tacos, tobacco, chips and beer. That will be our pot luck.”

Now, of course, it was not quite as simplistic as all that. Whether we are willing to believe it or not, peoples everywhere are much the same. Back in their village the chiefs and warriors assembled in the long house to argue the fine points of the invitation, to consider whether “pot luck” was the same as “pot latch” or should this be considered a “pow-wow”.

Meanwhile the tribal women quietly gathered baskets of food, star quilts and beaded moccasins in anticipation of many days of feasting and trading, ceremonial singing and face painting. They packed the canoes for the journey down river.

The day of the big feast arrived with much posturing and pomposity among the men of both cultures, with much speechifying and jostling for place and recognition. Among the women there was much oohing and aahing and pinching of babies, trading of recipes and exchanging dress patterns. Young and old, each and all, ate their fill from tables groaning with the weight of basted turkeys and pumpkin pies. Old Uncle Ebenezer over-imbibed in home brew and fell face first in the mashed potatoes, thereby setting the precedent for following generations of impaired Uncle Ebenezers.

While the women scrubbed dishes and made sandwiches from the leftovers, the men scrambled out in the back yard and invented football. A good time was had by all.

In fact, so much good came from Dame Goodheart’s pot luck that the participants, wiping grease from their well-fed faces, agreed to meet again for the harvest celebration next year and marked the date on their calendars. While the men wanted to name the celebration The Super Bowl, it is rumored that young Tiny Tim, in his piping voice, was heard to exclaim, “Let’s call today ‘Thanksgiving’!” And so it is.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

November 22, 2012 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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