, Newburyport, MA

November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving thoughts

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Wednesday, early morning, had a gray look about it.

Trees were barren, and the lawn, swept of leaves, was well frosted.

“A Pilgrim kind of late November morning,’’ I thought as I backed into my spot on the family parking lot.

I had just returned from early morning Mass, and as I reached the front steps, two shots from some distance away rang out — “Blap! Blap!”

“Happy Thanksgiving,’’ I said, my hopes being more for what was — in all likelihood — a less than wild turkey rather than the hunter.

We have been nurturing our flocks of wild turkeys in Newbury for some time, and reports from away indicate there seems to be more and more of them.

Either that, or one very large and growing contingent of them really gets around because they’re reported everywhere.

It’s not unusual to see a line of traffic stopped in its tracks awaiting the end of a turkey parade across an otherwise busy street. One by one, with equal spaces between them, they cross single file without concern from one yard to another.

“How things have changed,’’ I thought, recalling the much earlier time of my youth when the only wild ones we ever saw were in some paintings of the first settlers celebrating their first Thanksgiving out of doors.

Given the kinds of weather we can have, the Pilgrims were a hardy and practical lot, so they celebrated in late September — not November.

So were the friendly Wampanoag Indians who joined them. Together, there were about 90 of them and 60 of the setters and the celebration continued for three days. Where else but out of doors?

It caught on.

Thanksgiving spread at different times and settings across the centuries, but it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s choice in 1939 that moved it to the last Thursday of November. Congress, for marketing reasons, moved it back a week in 1941.

For whose benefit?

The National Retail Dry Goods Association of that era wanted to get the jump on Christmas shopping by another week, and Congress obliged — probably because we were just beginning to dig our way out of the Great Depression.

Being first out of the blocks was, and remains, important to both merchandisers and bargain seekers. Every moment counts, and shopping begins for some while their Thanksgiving dinners are still somewhere in their digestive tracts.

That doesn’t reflect what was on the minds of those early settlers. Freedom of belief and survival were. They had gambled their lives for both, and on that day of celebration some 60 survivors were joined by the great Indian King Massasoit and some 90 of his men.

They gathered with what nature, skills and necessity provided, and they celebrated for three days. Food was from a meager harvest of grain from the field, but an abundance of meat of deer and turkeys from the forest, much of which was provided by the Indians.

I like to remind myself of that because there remain amongst us in our towns and cities those in need, and those who care to share.

It is a saving grace to do so. Always has been. Always must be.

The first settlers weren’t the only ones bringing food to the table. Massasoit and his followers were moved to share in the celebration, and that with intruders of a different race.

Bringing food to tables on Thanksgiving is what so many do for families they do not know. Caring and sharing is what the giving of thanks is all about.

As for peripatetic turkeys — may they keep on marching.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is