If not for the internet, I would have completely forgotten what day it is. Thanksgiving is one the holidays that has fallen by the wayside in my emigration. I attribute this to the fact that I don’t like: 1) stuffing, 2) cranberry sauce, or 3) pumpkin pie. And I am not thrilled by turkey either. I also attribute it to the fact that the Thanksgiving family gatherings of my childhood were often nerve-wracking affairs with the one and only upshot being we all resolved to behave ourselves better at the next celebration 4 weeks later.
You’d think I would be a bit more patriotic about the whole thing – seeing as how my ancestry on one side has been traced back through the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, all the way to the Mayflower. There is some discussion among the genealogists in the family which of several paths is the truest, but all agree on direct descent. I could join the DAR (“Daughters of the American Revolution”)!! And yet, I have never felt the remotest inclination to do so. I feel no affinity to those people and suspect they would return the feeling. In modern terms I would consider the Pilgrims to be obnoxious religious fanatics and in turn, they would take one look at the riffraff assembled around my family’s turkey and think “Look at this pack of gluttonous heathens! Is this what I puked my way across the Atlantic for?!”
I didn’t always feel this way. In Grade School I got the same romanticized and whitewashed stories of America’s “discovery” and the intrepid first settlers as I assume most American kids do. I even vaguely remember a picture in my history book showing the savage “Indians” bowing down to the god-like Columbus – like this one I just picked off the internet:
Thanks to more honest High School teachers interested in promoting critical thinking, my knowledge of these events was slowly updated and revised. After literature studies at college and a slow resurgence of Native American culture and arts, I got to fold in new information on these events from other perspectives. But it is a more comedic “historian” (although, maybe not the most academically serious one) who has implanted a truly resilient image of those Pilgrims into my brain . . . Bill Bryson who wrote “Made in America”. After relating how the crew of the Mayflower “referred to them as puke stockings, on account of their apparently boundless ability to spatter the latter with the former,” Bryson continues his description of the Pilgrims:
It would be difficult to imagine a group of people more ill-suited to a life in the wilderness. They packed as if they had misunderstood the purpose of the trip. They found room for sundials and candle snuffers, a drum, a trumpet, and a complete history of Turkey. One William Mullins packed 126 pairs of shoes and thirteen pairs of boots. Yet they failed to bring a single cow or horse, plow or fishing line. Among the professions represented on the Mayflower’s manifest were two tailors, a printer, several merchants, a silk worker, a shopkeeper, and a hatter–occupations whose indispensability is not immediately evident when one thinks of surviving in a hostile environment.’ ( . . . )
They were, in short, dangerously unprepared for the rigors ahead, and they demonstrated their incompetence in the most dramatic possible way: by dying in droves. Six expired in the first two weeks, eight the next month, seventeen more in February, a further thirteen in March. By April, when the Mayflower set sail back to England,* just fifty-four people, nearly half of them children, were left to begin the long work of turning this tenuous toehold into a self-sustaining colony.’ ( . . . )
For two months they tried to make contact with the natives, but every time they spotted any, the Indians ran off. Then one day in February a young brave of friendly mien approached a party of Pilgrims on a beach. His name was Samoset and he was a stranger in the region himself. But he had a friend named Tisquantum from the local Wampanoag tribe, to whom he introduced them. Samoset and Tisquantum became the Pilgrims’ fast friends. They showed them how to plant corn and catch wildfowl and helped them to establish friendly relations with the local sachem, or chief. Before long, as every schoolchild knows, the Pilgrims were thriving, and Indians and settlers were sitting down to a cordial Thanksgiving feast. Life was grand.
A question that naturally arises is how they managed this. ( . . . )
The answer, surprisingly glossed over by most history books, is that the Pilgrims didn’t have to learn Algonquian for the happy and convenient reason that Samoset and Squanto spoke English-Samoset only a little, but Squanto with total assurance (and some Spanish into the bargain).
That a straggly band of English settlers could in 1620 cross a vast ocean and find a pair of Indians able to welcome them in their own tongue seems little short of miraculous. It was certainly lucky-the Pilgrims would very probably have perished or been slaughtered without them-but not as wildly improbable as it at first seems. The fact is that by 1620 the New World wasn’t really so new at all . . .
So there you have it. My mental image of my ancestors – and it is not a pretty one. Particularly now, having battled a stomach flu for the past two days, it seems the only thing I inherited from these distant relatives is the ability to puke.
It suddenly occurs to me that I have managed to write a Thanksgiving post on the subject of ingratitude, which is kind of weird. So let me rectify the situation quick before I click on “Publish”.
On this particular Fourth Thursday in November I am thankful for NeoCitran, pretzel sticks, 7-up, saltines and stomach-friendly herbal tea. I am thankful for my coworkers who covered for me. I’m thankful for my elder daughters’ ability to cook her own lunch. I’m thankful for the friend who will give my younger daughter a ride to her Hip Hop class. I’m thankful for the living room couch. I’m thankful for my husband’s homemade beef soup – the first thing in two days that has made a one-way trip to my stomach and not returned. And now that I am feeling a bit better, I am thankful for Samoset and Tisquantum.