Grateful for the un-greatness

William McCullough

The story of the first Thanksgiving has been ingrained into just about every American’s mind since preschool age: Pilgrims and Native Americans came together and ate a turkey dinner together.

About a year ago, while teaching outside of London, my friend needed to give a speech concerning the meaning of Thanksgiving to a group of British primary students. He asked for my brother’s interpretation of the holiday.

My brother sent the following in an e-mail: “The origins of Thanksgiving date back to the time when Abraham Lincoln came over with the Pilgrims and decided to confiscate the land from all the Indians. To gain total control of the land, Abraham Lincoln chased the Indians all over the countryside until there were no more. Since there were no more Indians, the pilgrims began to eat turkey. To give thanks to Abraham Lincoln and the pilgrims, we now eat turkey every fourth Thursday in November.”

Obviously he was taking a jab at the origins of the holiday, its formal creator and the way in which our predecessors “obtained” lands. The point being, I can’t think of anyone who automatically thinks of the contradictions implicit with the American celebration of the holiday.

The holiday has come to be celebrated as a gathering of friends and family, doing what else but giving thanks. Giving thanks takes on the peculiar guise of gluttony and football.

Coming from a fairly large family, I think of Thanksgiving as bringing together a cross-section of all stages of human development. From infants to geriatrics, all age groups are represented. As one would expect with such a wide-ranging assemblage, the environment has been suffocating at times. Undoubtedly I have also contributed, and will probably unknowingly continue to contribute, towards this suffocating end.

Whether it was arguing with family members, being bombarded by a throng of pre-pubescent cousins or having to listen to the same annual conversations, I haven’t needed the tryptophan in the turkey to make me want to fall asleep.

I can vaguely remember arguments between my great uncle and my grandfather about who was the better of the two Eagles coaches: Dick Vermeil or Buddy Ryan. The arguments would extend such that after the resolution, the pair would not speak to each other for the rest of night. I don’t remember exactly what would start it, but my grandfather and grandmother would often wind up in the same situation by the end of the night.

More recently, my uncles have purposefully bated my grandfather into an argument, the subject being irrelevant, producing a similarly awkward situation.

If it isn’t a meaningless argument that gets everyone going, it is the speed with which my younger cousins can run around the host home. I am sure I was the same way, but as the eldest of the clan, I did not have six or seven others whirling around the house with me. Inevitably, objects break, hair and ears are pulled and digestion is interrupted by the conversion of stomachs into trampolines, all causing any number of tempers to flare.

You know what? I don’t care.

I love the fact that at any one point I can go from having a conversation about Truman Capote to having one about Pokémon. I can go from talking about the Phillies, to wrestling with a 12 year-old.

It’s a shame that some of the strongest memories I have of some family members is of them arguing, but I’m glad to remember them at all. And certainly there are times when I have fought as well or annoyed my family as a young’un.

When it comes down to it, family is the be-all and end-all. So, put up with whatever it is that gets you about your family.

Answer the 10,000th inquiry about how school is going. Or if you’re a senior, indulge the ever-dreaded question of plans after graduation.

You only get so many Thanksgivings to answer those questions.