In Australia where I grew up there was no Thanksgiving. There were people saying thank you, but sporadically and without the ever-present cheery “you’re welcome.” When I first moved to New York City in 1997 at the age of 22, I was consistently surprised by the chirpy “you’re welcome” emanating back at me after a simple thanks. I usually already had my back turned by then, was halfway out the door of a store when I would hear it. “You’re welcome.” The gratitude for my gratitude. These Americans were an appreciative people indeed!
I have come to think of Americans as less thankful than I once did, chiefly because of all the complaining that goes on about Thanksgiving every year. In the rooms of twelve-step programs, Thanksgiving is treated like a Holocaust memorial. We are urged to “get to a meeting” and participate in one of the many churches and recovery centers providing meals to the homeless or those with nowhere to go. Even those going home to see (alcoholic) family members treat it like the anniversary of a massacre combined with a carnival house of horrors. Sure, sitting around with family members you had nothing in common with who got drunk and belligerent was probably bad, but how many really had such awful experiences, were maimed, scorned and beaten because of the serving of turkey and yams? Aren’t all family occasions a little challenging, why pick on the horrors of travel, anticipation and over-eating that accompany Thanksgiving? You don’t want to overdose on Tryptophan – here’s an idea; Don’t eat it.
Yesterday I was volunteer assisting at my son’s school (because I am the literal incarnation of Mother Theresa) when talk turned to the story of Thanksgiving. There was even a Thanksgiving spelling test (do you know how to spell Massachussets (sic)? Didn’t think so…) The teacher reminded us (“us” because the details of American history can still be a little hazy for me) that the settlers spent 66 days on the Mayflower without taking a bath. That’s worse than Burning Man. This was more powerful than the stench emanating from my older child this morning before I clipped his nails, cleaned out his ears and dug dirt out from under every overhang with a wet wipe, which from here on out I’m going to refer to as the “Pilgrim Shower.”
I asked the teacher where the pilgrims went to the toilet, as there were no bathrooms?
“Over the side of the boat,” she replied.
“And in a bucket,” chimed in some of the child-geniuses.
“And that’s why you should be thankful for our forefathers and mothers, because they hung their butts off the side of the boat and pooped for you.”
The kids laughed hysterically (they’re 8 and 9 years old – my demo) and the teacher looked only mildly scandalized, probably because she needs help in the classroom so badly she can’t afford to be picky.
“The pilgrims pooped off a boat for you,” I continued, hitting my stride, “And by the way, Plymouth Rock… just a rock. I was very excited to see Plymouth Rock, the first part of our country the settlers landed on but it turns out… it’s just a rock. With a plaque on it. ‘That’s it?’ ‘Yep, that’s it. Plymouth Rock.’”
It’s such a beautiful idea, I pondered as the children spelled out “corn” and “Massasoit” and “bulimia…” Being grateful for what we have, those who have sacrificed for us, including our parents and ancestors who braved persecution and scurvy to grant us better lives.
This morning I heard my older son upstairs, “He got ALL the yoyos, and I got NO yoyos, it’s SO unfair…” as he began to cry bitterly. Actually cry in heartbreak. Then I heard the 7 year old complaining because his father is going to take them on a trip to Catalina over the weekend, “I don’t WANT to go on a ship.”
Why is that kid, is someone going to make you poop off the side?
We are going to Thanksgiving dinner shortly, where I’m sure there will be plenty more to complain about. And once again I am reminded that youth, as well as Thanksgiving, is wasted on the young.