Thankful at Thanksgiving

by Terry Hogan

It's about time to give thanks that we've made it to another Thanksgiving Day. This is a more subtle aspect of ''thanksgiving'' that is lost upon the younger members of the clan. But we older members, progressing up the ladder of family senior statesmanship understand it. As we climb the ladder, ever higher, the end becomes in sight. We find that it isn't resting on anything. We're approaching the Big Fall. But we've done well surviving this long -- war, car wrecks, shooting accidents, cancer and their ilk all lurk in our lives. We all have our stories, and as they say, lived to tell about it.

What else have we learned? We've learned that we cannot protect our children from making the same mistakes we did. This is true for two reasons. The first is the obvious one -- we know that they won't listen to us. The second is almost as obvious, but most of us won't want to confess it. That is, we don't want to admit to our kids that we were dumb enough to make that mistake. We have our prideŠ and sometimes darn little else.

As a kid, back in the 1950s, I remember a certain undercurrent of conversation between the older male set from time to time at Thanksgiving get togethers. Most of the talk was about farms and farming and crops harvested and yet to be planted. This was pretty common, given my clan, and easily tuned out. However, they would from time to time, get into more interesting subjects, and even a slightly racy or off-color joke from time to time. These comments would then spiral the conversation down into the undercurrents of stories beneath the words -- of dealing with the other half of the world -- women. A bond between these farmers would appear that went beyond worrying about crops and prices and weather. It dealt with trying to figure out their wives.

Now I firmly believe, with the benefit of hindsight, that these poor guys were doomed to failure, just as I am now. At the risk of appearing to be sexist, women share trade secrets about how to deal with men -- successes and failures. Men are isolated, lonely creatures, who may joke about the inscrutable female mind, but cannot, by testosterone dictate, share any serious, personal stories. We are doomed to repeat the same mistakes, from father to son. Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us to find matriarchal societies.

So here we are again. Instead of being among the junior members of the clan, we now find ourselves, by sheer endurance and attrition, being the elders. Our children are grown and have children. These most junior clan members are beginning to form impressions and memories that will live beyond us. Likely these impressions will lie dormant, unused and uncalled upon for many years. At some point, perhaps at a Thanksgiving get together, the old images will creep out of a cerebral crevice and scurry across the plain of consciousness, alive but a little stiff from lack of exercise. What will these images be? Will they be of loving grandparents or of a harsh word or gesture that was ill conceived during a moment of frustration?

Enjoy Thanksgiving and tolerate those who need a little tolerance. Invest in the grandchildren. It's a way of making up for some of the errors you made when you were parenting by trial and error. As soon as I became a parent, I knew my parents were better at grandparenting than they were at parenting. Grandparenting is a snap. By then, you've made most of the dumb mistakes on your kids, so you can do the right stuff for the grandkids. I have little doubt that our daughters have made a similar observation about me.

There is another thing about grandparenting that deserves thanksgiving. At this stage in life, you know that the grandkids are signaling their personalities from birth. As parents, you were too busy making mistakes to observe this. It didn't become apparent until your kids were near adults and still doing the same darn things as they did as toddlers. As grandparents, you can see it coming. The docile, the persistent, the demanding, the observant, the oblivious are there being expressed in the toddler. As grandparents, it is as plain as day.

Unfortunately, I believe our culture has turned its back on the importance of the ''extended family.'' Parents need a break from the kids. Kids need a break from the parents. Grandparents need the sheer joy of grandchildren. Kids need to feel as though they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Kids need a sense of continuity and of self-worth. We lost a lot with the loss of the family farm and the family business. A parent goes away in the morning and comes home at night and there is money for food and housing. Little else is understood. It wasn't always so.

I'm a big fan of family history. I also know that we cannot turn back the clock and, in many ways, we shouldn't. Much of the ''good old days'', weren't. But we can keep oral histories alive by recording them in print, in video, and in sharing the stories at family get- togethers.

Thanksgiving may also be a good time to rekindle or maintain an old tradition of our ancestors - neighboring. If you have a neighbor that has, for some reason, no place or nobody to share Thanksgiving, invite them over. Be persistent. When they come, both of your days will be better for it, and you may have given someone something new to be thankful for.

Have a happy Thanksgiving. Maintain the old family traditions, and perhaps start a few new ones.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online November 14, 2001

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