Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Nov. 20, 2012 @ 08:51 AM

Here we are approaching Thanksgiving Day, the awkward time of year when Americans pause to be thankful right before retailers’ Black Friday shopping frenzy. Most people admit that it’s hard to work up an attitude of thanksgiving. Gratitude appears to be a learned characteristic.


I remember being at my Granny Spencer’s house one Thanksgiving Day. Some of us children sat at a small table off from the grown-ups’ table. I don’t remember anything about the meal except a piece of homemade pumpkin pie for which I was not grateful.


In the days before electric blenders and food processors, women mashed cooked pumpkin with a fork or potato masher to make pies. The texture was much different from most pumpkin pies served today. Like some other children I’ve known, I had a problem with certain textures of food. When I took a bite of that pie, I loved the smell and flavor, but I could not swallow it because of the way it felt.


My mama scolded me for not eating it. My sister ate hers down to the very last crumb of crust. I wanted to eat it; I tried to eat it but could not for the feel of mashed pumpkin in my mouth. All the cousins left the table to run wild in the yard, but I sat alone, the dreaded pumpkin pie in front of me. I would have been there until bedtime had my granny not had mercy.


She leaned over the table and picked up the plate. I can’t remember what she said, but it was to the effect that I didn’t need to worry about it. I was free to go play, and oh, I was one thankful person joining my cousins in the yard!


That little story has much to do with real thanksgiving where we are aware of grace and mercy. If we have received only that which we feel we deserve, we have no basis to be thankful to anyone for anything; on the other hand, if we have humility, thanksgiving is a natural response.


Hard times humble us. The first Thanksgiving didn’t come about after immediate success and prosperity in the New World. I doubt that those early settlers would have paused for thanksgiving had their circumstances been comfortable. Suffering sickness, famine and death the first year caused them to remember and to be thankful for the second year’s bounty. Remembering is essential to thanksgiving.


In 1989 Caldwell County suffered much damage when Hurricane Hugo tracked across our area. Tornados snapped off pine trees like matchsticks in a forest near our house. In the middle of the night, I watched toward the east transformers exploding in the distance.  Then the electricity was gone.


For a week we waited for the power to return. We basically camped out at home, using a propane camp stove and a cooler. The longer the electricity stayed off, the more I grew tired of the inconvenience of it all. I could not vacuum dirt off the carpet, and I longed for a hot shower.


I can remember that time, and it’s easy to be thankful for hot, running water and the gifts of appliances that work. I can recall being moved to tears with gratitude when the lights flickered and the refrigerator began to hum. Before the storm I was too busy to be thankful for the simple things I took for granted.


The storms come, the losses, the broken bones, the fires and floods, and we are shaped by them in humility or hardness. On Thanksgiving Day we will have opportunity to remember and to count our simple blessings. 


I’ll have a piece of pumpkin pie, smooth or textured, and remember the blessings of a childhood with extended family and the privilege of growing up in a free country where I memorized in public school these words: “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” (Psalm 100:4)



Arlene Neal is a wife, mother, ASU alumna and community college instructor. She lives in Dudley Shoals. Contact her by e-mail at