Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Forging Links In The Chain Of Memory - A Thought For Thanksgiving

Early tomorrow morning, we will head east to enjoy the abundance of the Thanksgiving table with our family.  There will be four generations of us assembled, ranging in age from nearly 93 to nearly fourteen months.

We will share warm memories of holidays and feasts now long past and even warmer memories of friends and family now long gone. For some of us around the table, those memories will stretch back many decades, connecting us – at least in memory - with even earlier generations.  My mother, for example, will remember her childhood Thanksgivings in Brooklyn with her own grandmother – who was born less than three months after Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, but who was likely too young to remember the day her own father and his brother marched off to the war in far-off Virginia with New York’s 189th Volunteers.

Since it is a day of cultural and ritual memory as well as a day of celebration, we will remember the words of our grandchildren’s long-ago 11th great-grandfather, Edward Winslow (portrait below), who signed the Mayflower Compact just below William Bradford on the 11th of November 1620.
A bit more than a year later, in the chill of December 1621, Winslow wrote to his “loving and old friend” George Morton, who would later sail with his family from London for “Plymouth in New England” in the spring of 1623. In his letter, Winslow recounted the Plymouth Plantation’s first harvest and described the event that today we remember and celebrate as the first Thanksgiving.

Winslow wrote:

“We set the last Spring some twenty Acres of Indian Corn, and sowed some six Acres of Barley & Pease, and according to the manner of the Indians, we manured our ground with Herrings or rather Shads, which we have in great abundance, and take with great ease at our doors. Our Corn did prove well, & God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian-Corn, and our Barley indifferent good, but our Pease not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown, they came up very well, and blossomed, but the Sun parched them in the blossom; our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

Later in the letter, before listing those few necessities that he thought Morton should bring to New England with him, such as paper for window coverings and cotton for lamp wicks, Winslow described the abundance of the New World:

“For fish and fowl, we have great abundance, fresh Cod in the Summer is but coarse meat with us, our Bay is full of Lobsters all the Summer, and affordeth variety of other Fish; in September we can take a Hogshead of Eels in a night, with small labour, & can dig them out of their beds, all the Winter we have Mussels and Other [shellfish] at our doors: Oysters we have none near, but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will; all the Spring time the earth sendeth forth naturally very good Sallet Herbs; here are Grapes, white and red, and very sweet and strong also. Strawberries, Gooseberries, Raspas, &c.   Plums of three sorts, with black and red, being almost as good as a Damsen: abundance of Roses, white, red, and damask: single, but very sweet indeed; the Country wanteth only industrious men to employ, for it would grieve your hearts (if as I) you had seen so many miles together by goodly Rivers uninhabited and withall to consider those parts of the world wherein you live, to be even greatly burdened with abundance of people.”

Winslow would no doubt be amazed to see what has grown up along the banks of those "goodly Rivers unihabited!"

May all who read this enjoy the peace and abundance of the day with family and friends, and, in the words of Edward Winslow, in “…a more special manner rejoice together.

Most of all, amidst all the feasting and rejoicing, take time to do something to forge another link in the chain of memory that binds us to generations past, so that you in turn will be linked in memory to generations yet to come.