See Tom Hanks in the Mister Rogers movie. I was never a Fred Rogers fan, but . . . do not miss this movie. That’s all I’m going to tell you.
If possible, see it at an AMC theater. My cousin runs them and I love seeing his success. Not least the way he handled a racially charged incident last week. (I haven’t seen that Harriet Tubman movie yet, but it scores 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.)
So what did you do for Thanksgiving?
I skipped the turkey — per this 6-minute CBS Sunday Morning segment on “nutritional psychiatry,” you can sharpen your brain and fight depression by eating smart — but oh boy was the salmon ever good.
Growing up, our family had an amazing Thanksgiving tradition in a colonial house on 23.9 acres with a brook and a pond and a barn (all of which cost $24,000) . . . around an antique lazy Susan table that sat eight. My older brother, aka Goliath, would eat the drumstick; I liked the dark meat and stuffing and gravy and mashed sweet potatoes topped with melted marshmallows . . . and once famously said to my five-year-old cousin and future college classmate, now the senior political reporter for New Jersey Public Television (whose future AMC Theater CEO brother would be born and join the table in a high chair two years later), “Michael! If you want the ham, eat the ham. If you don’t want the ham, don’t eat the ham. But leth not athcuth it all the time!” (I had trouble with S’s. “Discuss” was rendered “athcuth.”)
The new tradition into which I’m tremendously thankful for having been welcomed these past nine Thanksgivings gathers a remarkable cast of characters — aged 4 to 91 this year — including Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan. This makes it very easy for me to “Hug a Republican” at Thanksgiving, as my previous post exhorted you to do. Peggy and I disagree on a lot, but respectfully; and agree on a lot more (she is horrified by Trump).
Each year, over dessert, our dinner ends with a pageant Peggy scripted years ago. She always plays THE NARRATOR; our distinguished (knighted!) 91-year-old always plays WILLIAM BRADFORD; but all the other parts get distributed, with special emphasis on newcomers to the group. (My first year, I was GEORGE WASHINGTON.) This year, one role was played by a leading Indian critic of Prime Minister Modi. So an Indian in a pageant about native Americans.
With Peggy’s gracious permission:
“This Settlement of Friends”
A Thanksgiving Play for Children
By Peggy Noonan
NARRATOR: And so we gather once again to tell our special story. In the year of our Lord 1609 a hardy group of dissenting Christian Protestants, who called themselves The Pilgrims, left their native England, a country long torn by religious strife, in hopes of finding religious freedom abroad. They went first to Holland. But in time the Pilgrims came to believe the freedom they desired could not be had there. And so they decided to leave all of Europe, and journey to what was called . . . the New World. On September 6th, 1620, The Pilgrims set sail from Plymouth, England on a ship called the Mayflower. Aboard were 110 passengers. Among them were 44 Pilgrims who came to call themselves The Saints, and 66 others who were called The Strangers. It would be a long journey, two months and four days, and a hard one.
Sickness spread, as did hunger. The seas were high and rough. Naturally in these circumstances not everyone got along. Within weeks disagreements among the Saints and the Strangers arose.
SAINT: Stranger, you do not worship as I do or dress as I dress. You are odd. This makes me want to ignore you, and forget to give you bread at dinner.
STRANGER: Saint, you people wear funny hats, and strange buckles on your shoes. You take your religion very seriously, which is nice, but God wanted us to have a sense of humor, too. Please don’t be so stern and righteous.
NARRATOR: Now, at this point, and very luckily for our country because he set a certain tone, came forward the leader of the Pilgrims, William Bradford.
BRADFORD: Gentlemen and ladies, there is no need to fight. We are not enemies, but friends. We are fleeing Old Europe — together. We venture to a distant shore — together. We will make our lives on the new continent — together. And so let’s sit and think and create a new arrangement by which to order our lives.
NARRATOR: And so they did. Meetings were held in the cramped common room of the Mayflower, and an agreement achieved. It declared and guaranteed full equality between all the Saints and all the Strangers. They agreed that henceforth they would mark their unity by calling themselves by one name: Now they would all be called Pilgrims, for they were united in pilgrimage to a new land. All the Pilgrim gentlemen signed this agreement, which they called the Mayflower Compact. It was the first, great founding document of what would become the United States of America. Now, just before the Compact was signed, land had been sighted.
PILGRIM GIRL: Land ahoe! Hard to starboard! Main shaft the jibney! I’m talking gibberish! I have no idea what I’ m saying because I’m so excited! It’s been a long trip! What I mean is: Look, there’s land. It’s the New World!
NARRATOR: It was indeed. It was Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. The Pilgrims traveled on until they found a small natural harbor that had been named six years before by Captain John Smith. It was called Plymouth. And now, one by one, the Pilgrims disembarked and stepped upon Plymouth Rock. (A moment of silence.) Almost immediately they began to build a settlement. But that first winter was hard and bitterly cold. Snow and sleet were heavy and held up the building of houses. Almost half the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower died. But then spring came. And on March 16th, 1621, a wonderful thing happened. A lone Indian brave walked into the Plymouth settlement. The Pilgrims were afraid — they’d never seen an Indian up close. But the Indian brave, who was named Samoset, both sensed and understood their fear. He said to them the one word he knew in English.
NARRATOR: And the Pilgrims were happy and said welcome in return, and invited him to stay the night, which he did. Now, Samoset had learned that English word from the captains of the fishing boats that even then regularly sailed the coast. He left the next morning, and a few days later returned with another Indian named Squanto.
SQUANTO: Hello. Good to meet you! I have known many English over the years. Believe it or not, I have been to England. The Captain of one of his majesty’s vessels took me there a few years ago. I learned the King’s English. People there were good to me, and now I would like to return the favor. I see you could use some help. I will teach you how to tap maple trees for sap, which you can turn into syrup. I’ll show you which plants can be turned into medicine, and which are poisonous. I’ll teach you how to grow and harvest Indian Corn, and other crops. I’ll show you where to fish.
NARRATOR: Well, Squanto saved their lives. The harvest the following October was successful. The Pilgrims found themselves with enough food to put away for the winter — vegetables, fish to be packed in salt and cured over fires. In time the Pilgrims had much to celebrate, and wanted to thank both God — and the Indians. And so the new Pilgrim Governor — William Bradford, of the Mayflower — proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all colonists and all neighboring Indian tribes. He wrote the formal declaration in his own hand:
BRADFORD : Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of corn, wheat, peas and beans . . . and because He has made the forests to abound with game, and the sea with fish and clams . . . and inasmuch as He has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience — Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with our wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th of the year of our Lord One Thousand, Six Hundred and Twenty Three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Plymouth Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His Blessings. Signed, William Bradford, ye Governor of ye Colony.
NARRATOR: That first Thanksgiving the Pilgrims invited Squanto, and 90 braves, and all their families, including the little ones. There were foot races and games. The braves demonstrated their prowess with the bow and arrow, the Pilgrims with their muskets. One man played a drum. Everyone ate together , at big tables and on blankets. The tradition of the holiday continued, but its name would not emerge for a hundred fifty years. America had just emerged victorious from its own long journey for political freedom from England. The American revolution was won. President George Washington himself proclaimed a day of thanksgiving.
WASHINGTON: Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, and to be grateful for His benefits, both Houses of Congress have requested me to recommend to the people of our country a day of public thanksgiving in which to acknowledge the many favors of God, who has allowed us to establish a form of government that will provide to us safety and happiness.
NARRATOR: The custom continued after the Revolution, and continued through another time of bitter challenge and great need. It was October, 1863 — the height of the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln declared that even during a conflict of such severity, there was still so much to be thankful for. And so now he formally declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
LINCOLN: Peace has been preserved between America and all other nations. Harmony has prevailed everywhere except the theatre of direct battle. Even with war, peaceful industries have grown, our population has increased, and we expect, in time, a large increase of freedom. No human hand has done this. They are the gifts of the Most High God, who has remembered us with mercy. It has seemed to me fit that this should be gratefully acknowledged with one heart — and one voice — by the whole American people.
NARRATOR: And so Thanksgiving Day became, in America, a national day of celebration, a holiday from that day to this. And so we have gathered today and at this table, and pray:
SAMOSET: For the broad establishment of peace,
PILGRIM GIRL: For the spreading of prosperity,
SQUANTO: For increases in human health, and great strides in the areas of human inquiry and invention,
WASHINGTON: For the continuance of our Republic,
LINCOLN: And the deepening of our democracy,
BRADFORD: And with special gratitude for Squanto and his little ones and tribe, who were so very kind to the Pilgrims in those hard days long ago.
And then we killed them.
Not right away, or entirely; but many of them, and resettled the rest and sold them booze.
The pageant ends with one last line from the NARRATOR, thanking our hosts, “as now our play ends — thank YOU for this settlement of friends” — in exactly the spirit of grace and good-heartedness for which Peggy is known.
And yet it’s hard not to think how we’ve treated the people who were here first.
(One of you wrote to wish me a “Happy Thank the First Nation People’s Generosity to Immigrants Day!”)
Not to cringe at the instinct of today’s Republican leaders to tell Congresswomen born here to “go back to where they came from.”
Not to cry for the 13,000 Ukrainians Russia has killed while taking their land, even as our President delayed desperately needed, Congressionally appropriated military equipment hoping for personal advantage.
It’s really easy to hug Peggy Noonan. Impossible to hug Devon Nunes.
Click here if you’re in a position to help restore the spirit of the Mayflower Compact.
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I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.~Isaac Newton
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