A Thanksgiving Day Story

Once upon a time there lived a ruggedly handsome writer man (me) who loved Thanksgiving. He (I) loved everything about the holiday including the food, gathering with family, the food, watching football, the food, time off from work, more food, the lead into the Christmas/Hanukkah season, dessert, the holiday television specials and, did I mention the food? Our hero (me again) realized that Thanksgiving is not just a time to give thanks, rejoice and eat, but that’s a heck of a good place to start. He/me even enjoyed the history of the holiday. There’s a lot people don’t know much about this marvelous holiday, other than what they learned in elementary school. As a pretend investigative journalist, the following is a brief narrative on the history of my favorite holiday.

Funny kids - thanksgiving day celebrationThe first Thanksgiving Day has been tracked back to the year 1621,when the Pilgrims and Native Americans got together for a raging block party, following the Puritan settler’s first harvest in the New World. This feast lasted three days and was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims (as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow). I think my high school math teacher may actually have attended as well. The location of the inaugural event was the Plymouth Plantation located somewhere near Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. It was reported to be a crisp autumn day with light winds off the Atlantic (so says www.weatherhistory.com).

Wikipedia doesn’t state that the day started out with a scaled-down version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but I did some research. Apparently, retired plow-horses pulled flat-bed wagons serving as the first floats of the modern era. The blow-up balloon characters (Snoopy, Garfield and the Minions) were just raincoats sewn together which explains the lack of detail and clarity. None of this is probably true, but it makes for a good story—and Wikipedia doesn’t know everything.

Rumor has it the Pilgrims and Indians played a little touch football before dinner on that lovely fall day. Although technically the game of football and footballs themselves had not yet been invented, so when it was reported that they threw the old pigskin around it was an actual dead pig. This obviously explains why the game was originally called Pig Ball. The pilgrims requested to be called the Patriots and the Native American Indians, while technically having red skin, objected to the team name Redskins due to the derogatory term and the political incorrectness of the lame mascot. The warriors and chiefs instead chose Dolphins as their team name because they liked dolphins. The Patriots supposedly won by a field goal, probably because they cheated. Look it up at www.pigballhistory.com

Immediately following the game, players from the two teams enjoyed a few libations such as Ale and firewater, while scarfing down a fine selection of appetizers including chips and dip, raccoon pizza rolls, possum kabobs and a nice cheese platter consisting of smoked Gouda, Brie, Havarti and of course, goat cheese.

The dinner itself was legendary. Delicacies included roast turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, roasted and sweet potatoes and breads. Local vegetables that likely appeared on the table included; onions, corn, squash, various beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots and perhaps peas. Seafood dishes might have included lobster, bass, clams, oysters and mussels. The dessert menu assuredly had pumpkin and apple pies, custard, Jello and roasted gourds with a little milk, honey and spices. I love me a good gourd and I found a variety of delectable recipes at www.gourdrecipies.com

There was the obvious post meal nap for most of the men in attendance as the women folk did the dishes and attended to the children. As the night wound down, the pilgrims and Indian families likely watched a humorous puppet show or listened to some melodic banjo and harmonica tunes. I like banjo and harmonica music as much as the next guy—just check out my iTunes account at www.hillbillyturns.com – but living in the modern day, my favorite post food coma activity is watching a good movie. A few movies worth watching on Thanksgiving Day night include While You Were Sleeping (with Sandra Bullock), The Proposal (with Sandra Bullock) and Miss Congeniality (with Benjamin Bratt and Sandra Bullock). You really can’t go wrong with any movie staring Sandy B.

After the inaugural meal, this tradition of holding an annual harvest festival didn’t firmly take root until the late 1660s. It has been celebrated as a Federal Holiday every year since 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” That undoubtedly seemed a little wordy and too religious so somewhere along the line it was taken down to simply a day of “Giving Thanks.” In a recent interview, Donald Trump said that it was his idea. The actual “day and date” that we celebrate on has also been somewhat floating, usually taking place sometime in the late October to mid-November time frame. It wasn’t until 1941 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress proclaiming the fourth Thursday of November the official day. This likely coincided with school kids needing a few days off so their tiny brains didn’t explode between Halloween and Christmas.

By the time you read this article, you’ll undoubtedly be planning your Thanksgiving Day menu and decorating the house with cornucopias and belt buckle hats. It should be stated that this ruggedly handsome writer and his family don’t have any plans and are available to join in a lucky reader’s family festivities. We usually go out of town to visit friends during the long holiday weekend, but because of previously scheduled commitments we will be around. What could be more fun than sharing your holiday fun with a guy who loves everything Thanksgiving? It would make a great new chapter in the Thanksgiving Day story.

Ten Years Ago We Lived in Another World

If we can count on one thing to always remain constant… it is… change! Whether we’re talking about politics, the environment, culture or technology, the longer you’re alive the more you realize that nothing stays the same for very long.

Since we are celebrating our tenth anniversary here at ALIVE Magazine, we thought it might be fun to take a stroll down memory lane a bit and recall what was happening just ten years ago…

So, let’s begin by taking a look at your iPhone in 2005—oh wait, the “smartphone” won’t be invented for another two and half years—when Apple would introduce the first generation iPhone on June 9, 2007. No, if you were into cutting edge technology in 2005 you were probably carrying a Motorola RAZR (because it was one of the first phones to have a built-in megapixel camera). And if you weren’t riding the crest of the tech wave, you were probably carrying one of the other top-selling “flip phones” made by Nokia or Sony, as Apple was only in the planning stages of its hand-held device hegemony.

If you were the savvy business person in 2005 looking for the latest tech leg up on your competition, you certainly had laptop running Windows XP and a Blackberry personal digital assistant (PDA), although if you wanted internet access you needed a place to connect by Ethernet or DSL because WiFi was, pretty-much, brand-new technology that existed just about… nowhere. And even if you could plug in, the connections were so slow it was really a chore to be avoided if possible.

Transferring and saving data changed in 2005 with the invention of a new device called a “flash drive,” replacing the floppy for good and making the cd something mainly used only for music. And speaking of music, while Apple did come up with the iPod way back in 2001, it wasn’t until 2004-2005 that the device started to really catch on because up until then it was only Mac compatible and flash memory wasn’t part of iPod technology yet.

Hybrid vehicles had been around for a while already in 2005 but were still pretty much a novelty, as the world was first introduced to the Airbus 380, the XBox 360, and the F-22 Raptor that same year.

In 2005, Google had only moved out of a garage some seven years earlier and would not surpass Yahoo as the “search” leader until the following year, 2006. Its webmail service, Gmail, was still in beta status, available by “invitation” only. Invites to the program were so coveted they sold on ebay for upwards of $150. Regular “Joes” (the general public) could not use Gmail until February 7, 2007. Also thanks to Google, the task of finding your way around had the hope of becoming easier in 2005 because that’s the year they introduced Google Earth global mapping.Google_logo

Text messaging (texting) existed but only in what could best be described as in a primitive form, and it certainly wasn’t the ubiquitous means of communication it is today. And no one was “streaming” anything on their tablets yet because Youtube had just been invented (February 2005) and tablets wouldn’t exist for another five years with introduction of the iPad on April 3, 2010.

And what was your social media profile like in 2005? Believe it or not, Myspace was still the most visited social networking site in the world that year. It wasn’t until April 2008 that Facebook (launched in 2004) became Ruler of the social media universe. And Twitter wouldn’t exist for another year until its launch in 2006.

Of course there was a lot more happening in 2005 besides changes in technology. Hurricane Katrina struck the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama leaving a path of devastation and a death toll upwards of 1,800, becoming one of the worst disasters in U.S. history.

BENTON HARBOR, MI - MAY 28: Former President George W. Bush speaks at the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan May 28, 2009 in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Bush was to discuss his presidency and life, as well as the economy and world events in his first speech since leaving office. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)President George W. Bush started his second term, British Prime Minister Tony Blair began his third, Lance Armstrong won a record seventh straight Tours de France, and Steve Fossett broke a world record with the first non-stop, non-refueled, solo flight around the world in the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer. Oh yes, and the New England Patriots won 24-21 over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.

The world lost some amazing people in 2005, including Pope John Paul II, Rosa Parks, Arthur Miller and Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. We also said goodbye to Johnny Carson, Peter Jennings, Ann Bancroft, Richard Pryor, Luther Vandross, Sandra Dee, Eugene McCarthy, Bob Denver (Gilligan), and James Doohan (Scotty), among others.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962 - 1992 NBC) c. 1970's Shown: Johnny CarsonIt was a year of some landmark legal battles, too. Michael Jackson was found not guilty of child molestation charges; the United States Supreme Court ruled that medicinal marijuana users can be prosecuted for violating federal drug laws, and the courts ordered a feeding tube removed from Terri Schiavo, ending her life after a contentious, eight year legal battle between her husband and her parents.Saddam Hussein was tried and convicted in Baghdad for crimes against humanity.

On the lighter side, Star Wars: Episode III –Revenge of the Sith premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, but Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the 4th film based on the books by J. K. Rowling went on to become the most successful film of the year, earning almost 900 million. Other popular films that year included War of the Worlds, Batman Begins, Hitch, Crash, Brokeback Mountain, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Madagascar.

So there you have it—a little snapshot of life way, way back in 2005. Hey, this was so much fun, let’s do it again in 2025!

I Really Miss It

I confess: I miss ethnic humor. Not the mean-spirited kind that condemns, ridicules, or demeans an entire nationality, religion, or other ethnic group. Have we, as a nation become so sensitive that we cannot see that there are idiosyncrasies and unique qualities in most ethnic groups? Granted, that as people become more adapted to our mainstream society, we tend to take on the norms of the larger society.

Businessman changing light bulb, studio shotOver the years much of ethnic humor has been directed at immigrants to America. After all, immigrants often wear different, which means “strange,” clothing, eat unusual foods, and speak strange languages, sometimes with funny dialects–at least “funny” to our standard American speech patterns. I remember a story from World War II about an orthodox rabbi from New York who goes into the South to conduct High Holy Day services. When he gets off the train, people stare in wonder at his all black clothing including a top coat, despite the heat of Indian summer. They look with wonder at his long, unkempt beard and funny large, black hat. In exasperation he finally shouts at the crowd, “Vat’s de metter, ain’t you never seen a Yenkee?”

Of course, ethnic humor can be vicious and hurtful also. When an entire group receives an identity of stupidity or of being violent, those who are not stupid or violent suffer the consequences. Often such meanness can be traced to the differences the group displays. When my son was in high school, his math teacher who had a name with thirty-two consonants and ended with “ski,” would begin each class period with a “Polish” joke. David would tell the joke to me when he got home from school. Some were funny; some not so funny; and some totally unfunny. All implied, however, that Polish people are less intelligent and less sophisticated than others, a charge we can readily see applies to some people in every group. (Do you, dear reader, have any idea how difficult it is for me not to quote one of those jokes now?)

Today many of the “Polish” jokes are now directed at blonds. Recently an attractive blond woman with glasses that seemed to channel Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blond” was a three day champion on a show called “Jeopardy!,” which has never been accused of featuring dummies.

(All right, just one): A philosophy student decides to go for a swim, but does not know how and almost drowns before being rescued by others. The student then takes a vow: “I will never go into the water again until I learn how to swim.” A Polish Joke? A blond joke? Neither!

The story is adapted from the “Tales of Chelm,” a collection of “fool” stories from Eastern European Jewish folk literature which can be traced to another such collection from Schildburg, Germany, dating to the Sixteenth Century. Incidentally, both Chelm, Poland and Schildburg are actual places. The English tell “Scotsman” stories and the French tell “Belgian” jokes; somewhere someone probably tells “dumb American” jokes.

Often our humor can resonate with people who are not from and do not fully comprehend our backgrounds. Bill Cosby, without his later indiscretions, told of life in Black America, as did Billy Crystal speaking of Jewish America. Both used humor that came directly from the family experience. Whether or not we understand Black or Jewish life, probably most of us have had a pretentious uncle or slightly cuckoo aunt so that we can relate to those situations.

When Cyrano de Bergerac gets teased because of his large nose, he lists about twenty comments the person could have said, but then he says, “I say these things lightly enough myself about myself, but I allow no one else to utter them.” Cyrano speaks for many people from a variety of communities, the most obvious being the Black community’s use of the “N” word in conversation and in stand-up comedy. Use of the word is forbidden, however, outside of that community.

While in graduate school, some organization had a social convocation of graduate students from a variety of disciplines. There were about fifty of us and two or three others and I told some jokes and stories to the group. I told the story of an Irish Catholic priest who hates the British with a passion. (The story is quite long and relies on an Irish brogue, so I will not relate it here.) Some people laughed out loud at the story; some smiled; some chuckled; and some didn’t give a damn. One man, however, scowled and showed his displeasure prominently.

By coincidence we later went to the hors d’ouevres table at the same time where, with scowl intact, he asked me, “Do you think that is right?” Puzzled, I asked him, “Do I think what is right?” He then asked if I thought it proper for someone who is Jewish to tell a story about a Catholic priest. I than asked a question I knew he could not answer, “Do you know who told me that story?” He shook his head, and I quietly said, “Father Pat.” Father Pat was a priest working on a Ph. D. so he could serve the church in public relations. The scowl disappeared; he repeated “Father Pat? Then he broke into peals of laughter saying, “That is the funniest story I have ever heard.“ Because a priest told me the story it suddenly became, if I may, Kosher for me to tell it. (I lied, but I hadn’t the heart to tell him that I heard the story about ten years prior at party for struggling actors in Hollywood, and it was told by Ernest Hemingway’s nephew.)

Some stories simply are funnier than others. Reaction can range from boredom to smile to chuckle to laugh-out-loud to hysteria. Few get to the hysteria stage. Some depend on which ethnic group is being slandered or teased. I once heard a story of dying Jewish man who smells the strudel his wife is cooking in the next room. He tells his son that his dying wish it have one last piece of “Mama’s strudel.” The son goes to get the strudel but comes back empty-handed saying, “Mama says the strudel is for after the funeral.” It was a laugh-out-louder. A few days later I heard a disk jockey on the radio tell the same story only with a Swede named Ole. Totally ho-hum!

My own philosophy is that anything can be the subject of humor, but good taste and common sense need to enter the picture someplace. Certainly religious fanaticism and terrorism are not funny, yet Jeff Dunham has become a rich man with Ahmed the Dead Suicide Bomber who decided to practice his craft before his mission. Some of you may be familiar with “Silence! I kill you!” Death, of course, is not funny, but I personally know of at least ten stories involving St. Peter and the Pearly Gates to Heaven.

Ethic humor can be funny or not; it can be in good or bad taste. After all not all fine art is the Mona Lisa or Guernica; not all symphonies are Beethoven’s Ninth or Brahms First; not all novels are The Grapes of Wrath or BY ANY OTHER NAME (by Edwin Cohen; available at amazon.com, Barnes & Nobel, and Ingram Books)

Hey you get commercials on television, radio, in the movies, why not here? Help a guy make a buck—you’ll enjoy the book—I hope!

The Baby in the Mirror

Beyond the usual blessings, our family had a great deal to celebrate on that Thanksgiving Day. Both of our children and their families, as well as my wife and I, had moved into new and nicer homes, with my wife and I settling into a new condominium in a Retirement Community a few miles east of San Francisco. In addition to generally good health, fulfilling jobs, and happy times, our daughter had given birth in July to a delightful, healthy baby girl, Alexandra or Ally. Just one month before the holiday, in October, our daughter-in-law and son also welcomed a new child into the family, a wonderful boy named Martin or Marty. Thanksgiving Day brought happiness and sincere thanks from all of us as we gathered with a few friends at our daughter’s and son-in-law’s home.

Through the mirrorIn addition to the family and old friends our son-in-law invited a co-worker from India who had been in the United States about two months and was enjoying his first celebration of an American holiday. The joyous occasion went well. We all had eaten at least enough, and probably too much, at the sumptuous dinner to which everyone had contributed.

After dinner four month old Ally, who suffered from a mild case of colic, cried incessantly from the pain in her young tummy. I, as grandfather, took it upon myself to comfort her by carrying her around the house, softly singing to her, rocking her in my arms, and doing anything I could think of to ease her discomfort. Taking her into the bathroom, I held her while she stood on the counter and admired the image of a baby that she saw in the large mirror. Too young to realize that the image was her own, she reached out to touch the “other” baby and, smiling, quieted down and stopped crying. We stood in front of the mirror for some time, then, again I cradled her in my arms and carried her into the living room.

When we left the bathroom and entered the living room, my son David asked, “Whatcha been doing, Dad?” Innocently I answered, “Ally and I have been looking at the baby in the mirror.” He answered back with just a touch of disrespect and sarcasm, “Dad, there is no baby in the mirror.”

With that simple statement and with no other signal of any sort between us, we immediately conjured the ghosts of Abbott and Costello and went into a routine that stopped the others from their chores so they could watch the “entertainment.”

Acting the part of the domineering father, I called on my not inconsiderable acting talent and stated rather haughtily, “David, I just saw the baby in the mirror,” to which he replied, more superciliously than before, “Dad, I am telling you, there is no baby in the mirror.”

With mock anger and frustration, our voices got louder and were and more strident as we continued our performance; “David, don’t contradict me. I saw the baby in the mirror with my own eyes.”

By now those who knew us well had stopped cleaning the table, doing dishes, or fixing “care” packages with left over turkey and fixin’s. Some shook their heads and mumbled, saying things like, “Here they go,” or “They’re at it again,”–all that is except the poor young man from India. With his eyes almost popping from his head, one could almost hear him thinking, “What kind of American holiday is this where a seventy year old father and forty year old son might come to blows about whether there is a baby in a mirror?” He was convinced that he was about to be a witness to fight, or even murder. As our exchange got more “heated,” he surreptitiously and slowly inched from the wall opposite the door toward what he must have assumed was only path of escape from the mayhem about to happen.

David and I continued our charade. After I insisted that there was a baby in the mirror, I announced that I would go back into the bathroom to check one more time. Carrying Ally with me, I emerged from the bathroom proudly proclaiming, “All right!! I saw the baby in the mirror—again.”

Unperturbed, David simply restated his position, “There is no baby in the mirror.” Almost shouting, I insisted that he go and look for himself, which he did, emerging from the bathroom, shrugging, and reiterating, “I’m sorry, Dad, but there is no baby in the mirror.”

My pretended anger rising, I almost screamed, “Damn it, David, I saw the baby in the mirror.” He merely shook his head in response, implying that the old man was losing it, or had lost it. By this time all the onlookers in the know were having fun and laughing with our routine. Everyone, that is, except the chap from India. More convinced than ever that blood was about to be shed, he stood awestruck and frozen by the front door.

David by this time had sat again in the chair facing the room with the controversial mirror. Sensing that it was about time to end the charade, I said to him, “Look, we have got to settle this once and for all. I am going to look in the mirror one more time.” With that I added, “You hold Ally while I look.” I handed him his niece—my granddaughter. I returned to the bathroom mirror, alone this time. When I came out I appeared totally shaken and contrite saying, “I can’t believe it. There is no baby in the mirror, but I am certain that I saw . . .” Here I let my voice trail out and apologized to my son. David, showing no mercy to his disbelieving father, simply said, “I told you so.” We then began to discuss football as if nothing had ever happened with babies and mirrors. Nothing had, of course.

With that family and friends smiled, chuckled, or laughed out loud, giving the two actors a smattering of applause, and all returned to their chores. Everyone except, of course, the visitor from India. He continued to stand by the door, unsure of what had just transpired. Although there was nothing to indicate it, we could not help but wonder if his return to India a few months later had been motivated, at least in part, by the strange doings at the Thanksgiving holiday at his colleague’s home: All that idiotic fuss and bother about “a baby in a mirror.”