October 10, 2018
This past Monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada. I can tell you that the history of this holiday as I was taught in school was that at its inception, it was a uniquely American one. I know I mentioned that last year at this time, (and likely the year before that and the year before that). My childhood memories of the holiday, at least in school, were of coloring pictures of the pilgrims and the Indians, and pumpkins and turkeys—and learning, of course about the Mayflower.
I definitely recall, as we heard the story of the first Thanksgiving, no teacher ever informed us that pilgrims were not a part of the Canadian historical story—or indeed, that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada in 1578. I didn’t learn that until very, very recently. Apparently, our Thanksgiving is more closely tied to the harvest celebrations held in Europe, usually in October. No, I never learned that in school, where we had to set out our Thanksgiving decorations of pilgrims and pumpkins and such.
We didn’t, in my personal experience, begin to make a big distinction between the United States and Canada until we drew close to our own Centennial. Yes, we stood on Main Street for the parade on July 1st, Dominion Day, which later was named Canada Day. But that and standing for our National Anthem (as often as not, in those days, God Save the Queen), was the full extent of Canadian patriotism that I’d ever seen displayed in public.
I recall the great flag debate of 1964. In our family it was a battle of sorts between my Mother (wishing to retain some semblance of the Canadian Ensign and the Union Jack on our flag) versus my brother, who wanted that beautiful new white and red flag with the Maple Leaf.
The only Thanksgiving Day traditions this family has are all related to food. In my house growing up, and as a parent myself, generally speaking, we had turkey twice a year: Thanksgiving in October and Christmas in December. The other Thanksgiving staples are sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. New Years Day supper, both in my mother’s house and in mine, more often than not was ham. I should qualify that and say that for just the two of us these days, New Years Day hasn’t generally in the last few years come with any special supper at all. Who knows what this upcoming New Year’s will be like? I’m on an every-other-day supper making plan here. We have soups (sometimes home made ones) and canned pasta or stew or frozen one-serving entrees, and of course “L.O.s” (left overs) for the day in between. Even with this new schedule, David has put himself on a diet, because he knows he needs to lose quite a bit of weight. Retirement for him has been a mostly sedentary life.
This year we had the local gang as well as two guests here for our Thanksgiving supper. It was a wonderful time, and really special because our Sonja cooked the turkey, so she was here for most of the day. I like spending time with her—I like spending one-on-one time with both of my girls. They’re interesting and funny, and even though they are both in their forties, they still need a mom every once in a while. I’ve had solid evidence of this the last couple of years, and I am grateful to be allowed to fill that role for them both. Our guests for Monday’s feast were two of Sonja’s coworkers. They appeared to enjoy themselves and that always pleases me.
And that brings me to the message I really wanted to express in this essay: gratitude.
I’ve come to believe in my later years that an attitude of gratitude is a healing balm that can cure most emotional ills and bruised hearts. I try to take time every day to express my thanks-giving.
I’ve come to appreciate that those things I once considered truly awful that happened to me in my early years were in fact blessings—and for that I give thanks.
If I hadn’t been through some really horrific things, my writing—whether in these essays or in my novels—would lack depth. I have a friend who is a New York Times bestselling author. She has always maintained that while you occasionally have child prodigies in many of the arts and sciences, you don’t have one in novel writing. The reason is simple. Despite the possibility of gifted prose, unless one has some of life’s kaka on them, they can’t really write anything that touches us, or that calls to most people.
I am grateful, therefore, for the adversities I’ve endured and overcome, for they have made me relatable, which in turn allows me to help those going through similar tough times.
I am grateful for the lean years where balancing the family budget felt like trying to juggle six balls in the air while standing with one foot on a thin wire, high above the crowd—and with no safety net below. If not for those times, I wouldn’t be able to offer counsel to others when asked, nor would I be as grateful as I am for our modest bounty today.
I am grateful for my family, whom it has been my privilege to serve and love—and for the chance to love our middle child, Anthony, for the few years we were granted with him. Loss has a way of helping to build bridges with others. And so, yes, I am grateful even for that loss.
I’m grateful that there are actually thousands of people who’ve read my words in the past, and fewer now, but still thousands who continue to read them today.
And I am grateful every morning to awaken to a new day—a day that if I choose to see it thus, can be as bright and full of endless possibilities as any new day should be.
I wish you all many days that are bright and shining and full of possibilities.