Thanksgiving is often called an “All American Holiday”, but that’s not quite true. Mankind has been ‘giving thanks’ for thousands of years around Harvest time – or cursing when Mother Nature, in all her kindness and wisdom, sought to deprive them of their lives whether through plague or famine, which were often tied.
As a child we often found ourselves going with friends, not family, to celebrate Thanksgiving. Thanks to the military our family was spread wide, and we were always thousands of miles away from any ‘extended family’ (as remains the case to this day). Remember this if you know (or see) any military families around . . .
I remember the Thanksgivings thrown by our friends. Our family was so poor they always invited us to theirs: the Easter celebrations, Christmas, Thanksgiving. The neighbors across the street – their father would come over some times when ours was gone – calling my father a “son-of-a-bitch” for leaving us like that and with no funds – checking the cabinets and cupboards to make sure we had some food . . .
Our father often left us poor, serving in the military. Families can suffer a lot, and he was very irresponsible. He was gone more often than not. Vietnam twice, Korea when he was a young man, TDY off and on every couple months. I don’t remember him being home for the holidays very often until he took us overseas for some years.
The Army had dragged him halfway across this land – and then he sort of ‘abandoned’ us – using his paycheck overseas and leaving us to survive on the Army’s housing allowance. My mom had to take in sewing just to make ends meat . . .
So our neighbors invited us not only ‘over’ – but over to their parent’s dinner party – year in and out. They were our friends, and their mom was one of the best. She was more ‘mom’ to us than our own mom sometimes – smile as bright as the Southern sun, a big hug and a kiss for the children she’d come to meet – a pretty woman, a real Southern belle, albeit of a rural kind.
Once upon a time I had a man-servant. (Really – I did, up until I had to get rid of him cuz’ my wife was moving in . . .). We were so poor we caught a chicken once – one of those wood chickens you see on occasion in the South – a tough old scrawny bird, a rooster no less – and it was about this time of year . . .
and using a bread knife (the only one we got) we sawed his head off – me holding him by one wing and the tail, my friend by the other as I sawed at his throat – going at it while he croaked and clucked, feather flying . . .
Toughest bird I ever ate in my life.
And yet we called that “Thanksgiving”. I know we gave thanks for that bird. We were starving so bad our dog ‘Trash’ was starting to look good – and we had to thank him, too, giving him a bit of that bird cuz’ he’d been the one who cornered it and alerted us to its presence in the yard . . .
Military Thanksgivings – my heart goes out to the soldiers. You know the ones: the ones standing guard right now! – sitting in some foxhole right now – waiting for some enemy to come. Uncomfortable, breathing dust – maybe cold as hell. Eyes stinging. A can of cold C-rats in my age, MRE’s in yours – those might go far in filling an empty belly, but they can’t fill that cold gap in your soul. You might sit there – watching over some empty desert – thinking about things back home; how warm and wonderful the meals were . . .
Many the time as a kid (and later on as an adult Marine) – I ate my fair share of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners on a cold plate or (if I was lucky) at the mess hall. That compressed stuff – gives off a nice odor when it’s steaming, but its compressed meat, not a bone to be found . . . green beans out of a can, the Army cooks doing the best they can . mashed potatoes served up by the yard. Of course it comes in boxes, all nicely dehydrated into flake (which you can use as fake ‘snow’ when you’re in a pinch, just don’t let the rain fall in it – it gets gummy as hell).
I used to dread eating at one mess hall. The food was so bad (even by Marine Corps standards) that I lost 35 pounds over a series of months. There were cockroaches in the eggs, and the corned beef was all fat . . . the cook had a fondness for curry which he put in everything. Even the SOS was bad – and that’s saying a lot. (If you’re military you know what I mean.)
We used to pick the worms out of the salad (at some mess halls) all the while exclaiming our appreciation for the addition of “extra meat”. . .
So . . . when you’re sitting down this Thanksgiving (wherever you are) – or just celebrating this Harvest season . . .
whether you’re some soldier in a dusty hole, or sitting down at a table for a good feed . . .
or a family who’s father is far, far away from home – and you find you are celebrating ‘alone’ – far from family of your own . . . in some neighborhood you know nothing about . . . or maybe all alone . . .
I hope I’ve given you something to think about, give thanks, too.