We “Boomers” are the last generation to remember Thanksgiving before “woke” public schools, TV Football, cellphones at the table, and the rush to catch early Christmas sales.
Classic 1941 “Freedom from Want” Painting by Norman Rockwell Celebrating The American Way of Life.
For weeks before Thanksgiving, our elementary school teachers told us of the First Thanksgiving. They did not tell us any details of the horrible wars, massacres, executions, and persecutions that plagued most of Europe for 200 years before it. They never told us why this happened, or exactly what Catholics and dozens of different denominations of Protestants were fighting over. They just told us of the Pilgrims and how they left comfortable homes in England so they could worship God and live their lives as they wanted. They told us of the unbearable hardships the Pilgrims endured during months at sea, and a winter of disease and starvation when they landed in an empty wilderness.
Forty-five of the 102 Pilgrims who landed in America in the fall of 1620 died of cold, hunger, or disease during their first winter.
We also learned how roughly a third of the Pilgrims died of disease and starvation during that first winter. We were told of how Squanto and other Indians saved the Pilgrims. Squanto was an English speaking Indian who miraculously approached the Pilgrims and taught them to grow American corn and other native crops.
Squanto had previously left his Indian village in Massachusetts to work for a group of English explorers. One of them later betrayed Squanto and sold him as a slave in Spain. However, Squanto managed to escape and persuade other Englishmen to bring him back to his village. There he learned that everyone he knew there had died from a plague.
Pilgrims thank God and helpful Indians for their first bountiful harvest after living in America.
The first Thanksgiving took place when the Pilgrims invited Squanto and other nearby Indians to celebrate their first bountiful harvest in America.
Like everyone else in elementary school we spent weeks making Thanksgiving drawings and decorations. I still remember every word to the hymn “We Gather Together To Ask The Lord’s Blessings”. There was never anything uncomfortable or threatening in singing a Protestant hymn to celebrate an American holiday. We were happy to be welcome and included in such a wonderful country. My immigrant grandmother and second generation parents had also learned that hymn in their elementary schools.
Public School Thanksgiving Play — 1930’s
The time spent preparing and cleaning up after Thanksgiving Dinner seemed more interesting and memorable as the dinner itself. That was when everyone in my family along with other guests shared countless stories. Many of them compared life in America with that in the Old Country. They talked of some good times in the Old Country. I remember hearing how Odessa in Russia was like Atlantic City. However, everyone talked of how there was no future for Jews there. No matter how rich or successful a Jew could get in Russia, he or she could be beaten, robbed, killed or arrested on false charges at any time, just for being a Jew.
My grandfather at the 25th anniversary party of his brother in 1931 in Brooklyn, NY. Just 30 years early, they came to America with nothing but the clothes on their back. Even during the Great Depression, they were thankful to be in America where they enjoyed far more freedom, opportunity, safety and comfort than they could ever hope for in Europe.
None of them said that life was easy in America. Although they quickly learned to read and write English, my grandparents worked long and hard just to get by. They also faced ridicule and discrimination their accents and religion. My grandfather Max worked days and went to school at night to become an industrial engineer. However, he could not find a job because he was Jewish. My other grandfather David worked from dusk to dawn, six days a week in a garment factor. He wanted to go into a business, but could not get a loan from any bank.
However, there was not even a trace of anger or bitterness in my family when they talked of those days. On the contrary, they laughed about those days when they were “greenhorns”. That is because although they faced many obstacles in America, they were completely different from what they faced in the Old Country. Here in America, there was something that gave everyone willing to work and save the opportunity to overcome obstacles and succeed.
After being denied a career as an engineer, my grandfather started all over. He worked during the day and wen to dental school at night. Years later, he started and built up a successful dental practice. He also set up a laboratory in his garage. Therfe, he used his engineering skills to invent new products from plastic false teeth to mechanical signals for automobiles. My other grandfather David saved some money, borrowed from every friend, relative, and social organization he could to buy a sewing machine and open up a small tailor shop. Within a few years, he also owned his home and enjoyed an American Dream middle class lifestyle. Their children, including my parents, grew up as Americans. I am thankful to my grandparents not only for coming to America, but for lighting candles, rather than cursing whatever darkness they found here.
Millions of blacks moved out of the Democrat “Jim Crow” South between 1880 and 1930 much as immigrants left poverty and oppression in Europe. Many moved to Republican Atlantic City, NJ which was often called “The New Promised Land”.
Almost every boomer I know tells a similar story. My friend Lorenzo grew up in a village in Italy where his parents had no hope of advancement. My friend Grainne told me a similar story about her parents who came from Ireland. Turiya S. A. Raheem told an almost identical story about her grandparents, black Americans moving from Petersburg, Virginia to Atlantic City.
Americans have the same DNA as every other people on earth. We have our good, our bad, and our ugly. However, since the days of the Pilgrims and that first Thanksgiving, there was something about our culture, our attitudes, and our government that somehow helped us overcome hatred and prejudice and create opportunities for others. We Americans have an obligation to do what is needed to restore that America for our children and grandchildren.
Unfortunately, my generation seems to be failing to do this. Unless we act quickly, we will be the first Americans in 400 years to leave our country in worse shape than we found it.