Being Thankful: Life Back Then and the Complexity of Now

So much has changed over the years. I can remember Thanksgiving celebrations reflected more of an inner rest from a year of very hard work trying to make ends meet up with other ends.  Considering family economics as a dynamic to determine whether it was worth celebrating or not, was cast an intrusion upon what it meant to be family. Everyone chipped in. There were pies and cakes, potato salad and collard greens. Then there was turkey and stuffing and laughter and prayers of thankfulness.

There was something incalculable about hard work and a commitment to a set of values that held at bay really tough times. Thanksgiving celebration was a time to express real gratefulness. It was not about the amount of money made, or not made over a year’s time, but about the quality of the effort to make it.

Public policies back then took advantage of the demand for products and services at the end of World War II with veterans flooding the marketplace. Yet, there were few who paid attention to the thousands that were rural, colored and female and poor- their numbers were staggering. They did not bask in the new America that was finally enjoying a bounty created by a bustling economy. Yet, when it was time to give thanks, they did just that. Food, shelter and clothing were debatable legislative matters that had not yet been figured out. The complexity of poverty was taking form out of the view of those gaining power. It was charting a course for America that with fierce disdain, cast the poor as her worse nightmare to be banished from its shores.

The poor back then refused to be marginalized. They had little as evidence that they were citizens of a democracy that believed in God’s order of humanity- “created equal”, but what they did understand was that the same God that spoke into existence the universe, with its magnificence of galaxies and stars and the sun- flinging it against a barren and dark sky, did so to enlighten a single world of a “single” people created in one image.

Thanksgiving is a celebration of this understanding. The poor, as it was back then, are still with us now. The difference presents a compelling case for action. Poverty has become more complex. Neighbors no longer share cups of sugar or bags of flour. Treks to the corner store at the nearest market cost more than the groceries swiped then bagged and carried. Black birds don’t seem to gather like they use to and home grown pork and sausage along side fresh eggs from a coup in the back yard account little for the demand that exist.

So much has changed since Thanksgiving back then and then again, so much remains the same. Neighbors still face food insecurities and the need to move the poor out of poverty into self sufficiency has never been more urgent. While most of us are enjoying a meal fit for an American, let us be reminded that there are others sitting  patiently hoping that this Thanksgiving, someone remembers they too, are American.