Saturday, November 25, 2006

After the Feast

Before leaving behind the strange apposition of a "thanksgiving" day and a once-great nation's retail obsession, here are a few links on the topic, followed by a reminiscence from my co-blogger Terry McKenna, who attempts to remind us what these occasions once meant, and still can mean.

Robert Jensen calls for the replacement of Turkey Day with a "national day of atonement" for our ancestors' genocidal campaign against the former natives of this continent.

Bob Herbert of the Times tells of one family's holiday agony. As it frequently happens, when ordinary people are allowed a voice in this society, they have more eloquence to offer in a phrase than we could find in an entire book from any grandiloquent pundit. Listen to the Mom of Sgt. Sherwood Baker, who was killed in Iraq while providing security for the team that sought Saddam's non-existent WMDs:

Ms. Zappala remains opposed to the war and is an active member of the antiwar group Military Families Speak Out. There’s a sign on her porch that says, “War is Not the Answer.” But she’s found that there’s no comfort to be drawn from her protests, however strongly she believes in them.

“Where’s the comfort in being right?” she asked. “Everything we said was right. Sherwood died looking for the weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. All the nonsense about the Al Qaeda connections and Sept. 11th. They were all lies. It was all wrong. But none of that brings Sherwood back to the table.”

And Jeralyn Merritt wonders why we would be thankful for a culture that destroys and processes humans in a similar fashion to the way it industrially treats the day's main course.

By the way, that headline in the graphic above is from an actual AP story. And yes, you are indeed trapped in a weird parallel reality. We all are. Fortunately, there will soon be enough of us who recognize that fact to open the way toward a transformation of our currently benighted land. And that's something to be thankful for—every day.

And now, Mr. McKenna:

I’m a member in good a standing of corporate America, so for me, the Thanksgiving holiday is a four day vacation. It was not always like this, I didn’t enter the corporate world until my 30’s. Until then, I worked in a variety of menial jobs that came with small hourly wages and few “fringe” benefits. In those days, I worked weekends and even major holidays. On top of my day job, I often had a part time job – even so I just barely made ends meet. My part time jobs ran the gamut from apartment superintendent, to waiter, night desk clerk and even adjunct instructor (in a university art department).

It has been more than a decade since I’ve needed to work part time. I am now a successful middle age corporate soldier. I wear a suit to work, and my salary supports life’s necessities. I don’t have excess cash, but at least if I break a tooth, I can go ahead and replace it. I don’t mention the tooth lightly. Some 27 years ago, while working as an assistant manager at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, I broke one of my two front teeth and needed to borrow from my aunt in order to pay the dentist.

Looking back at the hard times, I guess have a lot to be thankful for.

But what I remember most at this holiday is my mother. She died in 2003 (in her 88th year). Her death was not a tragedy. In the days before her death (she was in the hospital for what seemed a routine visit) she managed to see all of her children and most of her grandchildren. She was not in pain, but I suspect she would not have been sorry had she known these were her last days. I’ll never forget how she looked. She was frail, but also alert. My wife and I were her last visitors. I asked her if she wanted us to bring her something to read on our next visit (she was never without a book); she said no. So alone in her hospital room, in one of those completely inadequate hospital gowns, she said her last goodbye. She waived to my wife. She died that night, less than five hours later.

My wife and I married 30 years ago this past week, just a few months after we completed graduate school. At the time we lived in Jersey City, and were both trying to start careers as painters. My wife worked for the Census Bureau and I worked in a picture frame shop. At the time, the romance of being a poor artist seemed both doable and even attractive. Sounds ridiculous now. Both of us came from middle class homes. Artists really need a trust fund or a patron if they are to survive - and we had neither.

We were married before a judge and celebrated afterward with a small family dinner in a nice restaurant. Both our mothers were there, so was my brother and one aunt – was anyone else? I just can’t remember. As far as both fathers were concerned, they were both deceased, each one having died earlier in the decade. After our wedding dinner, we embarked on our one night honeymoon and returned home the next day – it was the Thanksgiving holiday. As we did most years, we gathered at my mothers house for the holiday dinner. I don’t remember anyone talking about how odd it was for two people to marry with so little prospects. Were we an embarrassment? I don’t know. In any case, my mother had to know how hard it would be for two kids starting out, with nothing. But she didn’t judge, she just offered her best wishes.

Two years later, we were living in Ohio. At the time, I was working as a stock boy and janitor in a department store. I also had a part time gig as an adjunct instructor at a university. Our son was born. We were poor and having a child only made things more difficult. We needed and received lots of help from my mother in law – we were lucky that we lived near her at that time - she probably purchased half our food and all our baby’s diapers. My mother was back in NJ. I don’t know what she thought, she had every reason to be appalled. Still, she never nagged me or criticized my decisions.

It is 30 years since we married. After a brief stint in Ohio, we returned to my home state. My son is grown, he has a good job and seems to be doing well. As I said, my mother is dead now. I guess is wish I had known when we were closer to her end. Of course, we always know that the old will die. But as aging parents get ever older, it begins to seem as if they will forever. And suddenly it turns out that they won’t.

And no, I was not a distant son. I saw my mother often, and if she needed help, I came over as soon as I could. One time, I got a call from her, telling me that the large shelves in our basement had fallen down. They were installed in 1958, so they had been up over 40 years. It took my a lot of hard work with jacks and a sledge hammer to get them back in place – but I did it. My point is that I was not distant from my mother, so my remorse is not a reflection of guilt over being a distant son. But I guess I wish I could have had maybe one more conversation with her. Would I tell her I loved her? Or maybe ask her what she really thought? Not that she lied to us, but I’m sure she hid her fears and just let us hear the encouragement.

Of course, this is a remembrance. Over time, the harsh words and bad days have faded all away. If you asked each of my mother’s five children to recall, you would no doubt find five entirely different stories. This is mine.

1 comment:

The Ripper said...

Great post, thank you. I don't know if you saw this article/video of Saddam and his inner circle right before the war, but I found it fascinating...