Many people, many stories, many reasons to give thanks
What will you be thankful for this year
November 25, 2009
It was a beautiful day for this late in November, a beautiful day for the 8th Annual Vaughn Community Service's Holiday Food Drive, which is sponsored by WMWV 93.5 FM and Magic 104.5 FM. The drive helps fill nine food pantries in Mount Washington Valley, from Bartlett down to Ossipee and over to Brownfield, Maine. The radio station broadcasts live from the entryway of the church, providing updates on the number of turkeys donated, and reminding those on their way to the grocery store or listening at home or work to swing by and drop off their donations.
Without getting out of the car, I handed over my bag of non-perishable food to volunteer Glen Ashworth of Jackson. Glen and fellow volunteer John Brancato of Intervale were providing curbside service for the scores of donors. They've been volunteering at the food drive for years, and when I asked them what they are going to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, Glen said he had a story to tell. I pulled my car up against the building so that I wouldn't block the steady stream of cars coming into the driveway and got out to listen to Glen's story.
Earlier in the morning, Glen said, an older gentleman with a slight accent dropped off some food. The man made enough of an impression on Glen and John that they recognized him when he came back later to donate more food. This time, he brought two frozen turkeys so that those less fortunate than he could have a holiday meal.
"I know what it's like to be hungry," the gentleman confided to Glen and John.
In April 1941, during World War II, Germany invaded Greece after the Greeks had successfully fought off the German's allies, the Italians.
By the middle of May, Greece was under the occupation of Axis powers, which caused devastating hardships for the Greeks. Over 300,000 Greeks died of starvation during this occupation, which lasted until October 1944.
The gentlemen, who was born in Greece, said that in 1941 he had had to
scavenge for pieces of food on the street in order to stay alive. His two younger brothers died of malnutrition, but he had survived, gone on to immigrate to the United States, had worked hard and had been successful in his life. He was grateful, he told the two volunteers, for having had the opportunity for that success.
Still, in that success he hadn't forgotten what it's like to be hungry. He had tears in his eyes, Glen said, when he told them why he'd come back with two more turkeys.
"I'm thankful for what we have," John told me before accepting a bag of food from the driver of the next car in line. "We appreciate what we have through stories like that."
All week long I had been asking people what they were going to be thankful for as they sat down to this year's holiday meal.
"My three beautiful children, and my three beautiful grandchildren," Mary Anne Hutchins of Brownfield answered.
Her daughter, Jessica Williams, of Brownfield, who is also her mom's supervisor in the housekeeping department of a local lodging property, said she's thankful for her three children, too. "And I'm thankful that my husband has a job," she added.
As I was waiting in line at the bank this past Thursday, a woman two people in front of me commented on how great this warm weather was.
The mild November temperatures, she said, will really help out people who have trouble paying their fuel bills in the winter, stretching out their winter fuel supplies. We can all be thankful for that, she added.
Getting through the winter in New England has always been a challenge, but never more so than when the Pilgrims first came to this land. They couldn't count on their friends and family welcoming them into their homes, homes that could be kept warm by a flick of the switch, like we can. They didn't have a supermarket to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables in the dead of winter, as we do.
When the Pilgrims set sail for the New World in early August 1620 they were hoping to make land within a couple months so that they would have time to prepare for the colder months and not be short of supplies. They originally set sail in two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell, but the Speedwell proved to be unseaworthy. Twice the group put into port because of leaks in the smaller ship.
Their second attempt at crossing the Atlantic was cut short after several days, again because of the Speedwell, and they anchored at Plymouth, England, taking stock of their situation, and consuming supplies meant for the ocean voyage. It was decided: the Speedwell would go back to London with those who had second thoughts about the long journey ahead, or who were willing to wait for another ship. The transferring of supplies and passengers to the Mayflower ate up several more days of sailing time, and it wasn't until the sixth of September that the ship left the British port for the final time.
The 102 passengers and crew of the Mayflower spent two months at sea before coming to the New World in November. The eastern seaboard was not, at that time, a foreign place to the English, the coastal line having been mapped and explored for over a hundred years. English fishing outposts dotted the coast here and there. The Pilgrims were headed for the land by the outlet of the Hudson River, but rough seas prevented them from getting that far. Instead, they first made land on Cape Cod, with scouting parties exploring the land for a suitable place to settle before bringing the rest of the passengers on shore.
The first Pilgrim didn't set foot at what became Plymouth, Mass., until December 11. They didn't finish laying out the town until December 28.
It was a rough first winter. The majority of the company spent most of that cold season in a common dwelling house which was only 20 square feet. Others lived for awhile in dugouts that were covered by turf roofs held up by wooden posts. An earlier scouting party had found 10 bushels of seed corn buried by the Native Americans, but in the hard, cold soil of winter there was no hope of planting it, or anything else, until spring came. They subsisted on cornbread, wildfowl and shellfish.
In the still-crowded conditions illness spread fast. Without fresh fruit or vegetables, some Pilgrims fell ill with scurvy. Cold viruses deepened into pneumonia and many of the early colonists died. No wonder that when spring came, and then summer, and then the harvest, the Pilgrims would celebrate a three-day feast, the spiritual ancestor of our Thanksgiving, with the Native Americans who had befriended them.
At that first Thanksgiving, there were only 53 Pilgrims out of the original 102. Among those surviving were four married women, five teenage girls, nine adolescent boys, 13 children and 22 men. They were out-numbered by the 90 Native Americans at the feast, but the natives were good guests; they brought with them five freshly killed deer.
We have a greater variety of food on our modern-day Thanksgiving tables, but I found, in asking people what they are going to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, that the basic reasons for which we are grateful haven't changed much from the reasons for which those first harvest feasters were grateful.
"I am thankful to be alive," Elaine Wales of Albany said, "and to have lots of friends."
Camille Rose, also of Albany, replied, "I am so thankful for my health
and family." Noting that she and her husband, Jack, have family presently serving in the military, she said, "I am thankful they're still with us."
Lee Grant of Albany had a similar reply. "Life, friends and health," he said without hesitation.
Darlene Towle of Gorham is thankful she was able to get her living room painted so it will be ready for the friends and family she's having over for the holiday meal.
"I'm thankful for the whole world, even if it's not (all) good," Mary Leavitt, another Albany resident, said with a smile.
Later, while I was cooking supper, fortunate enough to be in my own house, the lights on and the oil furnace taking the chill off the kitchen as the dark of the night deepened, I heard Christine Diaz, executive director of the Vaughn Community Services, on the radio, summing up the food drive with one word.
"Astonishing," she said. "While the need grows, the giving grows," she said.
By 6 p.m. the food drive had collected 258 frozen turkeys and countless bags of food and household items. And we can all be thankful for that.