It is November, the season of devastating storms on the Great Lakes and of Thanksgiving complicated by electioneering rhetoric, a perfect time to revisit a family anecdote and the puncturing of trust. Way back in the 1950s, the story goes, we drove past Turk Lake on the way to Grandma’s house. Stepdad, being a compulsive raconteur, told Kid Brother, a tadpole of four, that our Thanksgiving turkeys came from this body of water. Yes, Sir, all Thanksgiving turkeys came from Turk Lake.
Late in the summer following, Stepdad received word that Kid Brother had popped Cousin Bing on the snoot. The altercation took place near the back steps of Grandpa’s house, where a tearful Bing and an indignant Kid Brother yet stared each other down. Soon Stepdad was on the scene, vindictively aglow in his own righteous indignation. Pulling his leather belt out for redress he demanded, “Did you hit Bing?” “Yeh,” whimpered Kid Brother. “Why? Came the stammering response, “He. . . wull, he said there warn’t no turkeys in Turk Lake!” The leather belt snaked its way back through loops, unused and unusable by reason of honor. Therein lies the root of outrage, when someone you wanted to believe misleads you.
We’re in a crisis of confidence, having heard too many stories and too many lies. Now everything we have ever been taught is up for challenge. Thanksgiving, for instance, is described as not being about thanks, but about gorging ourselves. That’s reasonable because we have always lived in abundance, but we have always taken comfort in the story of the original Thanksgiving. It is commemorated in elementary school plays, starring little boy pilgrims in black flower pot hats with big buckles in the front, little girls in granny dresses, and trees that dance in the background. Every now and then one of the trees falls over.
It is a time honored tale of public relations, based on the humanitarian gesture of Samoset, a native American who greeted the Pilgrims in perfect English, which he purportedly learned by listening to English fishermen. Samoset introduced our forefathers to Squanto, who taught them to fertilize their crops by burying fish with their seeds. Squanto, ways Wikipedia, had been captured and taken to England as a slave, so he must also have been conversant with the language.
“Samoset,” says Will Cuppy, “didn’t like clothes.” He showed up wearing a bow and arrow. According to another source, he had one complete arrow and an arrow shaft minus the flint head. It had been a warm day but the temperature dropped toward evening. There was thought of letting him stay the night. The ladies, however, were afraid of him, so someone furnished a coat and pointed him outward toward the forest.
Some naysayers assert that the public relations story is bunk. They point to genocide and the killing of “millions” of indigenous folk, claiming that in later years “thanksgiving” celebrations took place after a massacre. In truth, only one source makes the claim about the later celebrations, the one to which I no longer respond. That atrocities followed in later years, I understand, but the very first one was surely a celebration of survival and mutual dependence. Where did the “millions” come from? I remember once reading that more native Americans were killed in movies than actually existed. That fellow said that there were probably no more than 800,000 in the whole of North America. So how did he come by his figures?
Some people say that we have lost our way, that we have fallen from the high road we once travelled. Others insist that we were never on that high road at any time. Sixty or so of us gathered at the mall on Sunday prior to Thanksgiving, the meeting being a call to repentance and return to the high estate we have vacated. With respect to the “others,” mentioned above, I wonder just how high our “estate” was. As a matter of confession, I am horribly uncomfortable with Southern Gospel music because it seems intertwined with racism, lynching, and bombings.
As we move from Thanksgiving and disputed history into the election campaign I am bemused at our search for the morally and ethically pure candidate only to find them all lacking. “Great saints and great sinners,” said C. S. Lewis, “are made of exactly the same material.” The end result will be like putting on our cleanest dirty shirt. Does your turkey taste funny?
Jim Stockton is a retired bookkeeper who lives in Belding.