Thanksgiving lunch-dinner in Florida this year was a bit different than traditional family dinner up north. At home in East Hampton, the long wait for the turkey to reach a certain temperature and for the side dishes to be ready is alleviated only by the distraction of the football game on t.v., and the pumpkin pie which, though intended for dessert, is my favorite appetizer. This year, it was a restaurant Thanksgiving, family and friends gathered together, all unmasked except for the wait staff. Rather than the usual cold northern winds, we enjoyed a sunny 70-degree day, typical of Florida this time of year. Perfect for a Kennedy-esque football game in the backyard, and indeed a swim in the pool.
The waiter said they were serving 400 plus Thanksgiving dinners this year – almost back to their regular numbers. They were short-staffed of course, but our waiter kept things moving. During dinner, conversation turned to a recent article in the Washington Post about the Pilgrims, and how they were saved by the Native American Wampanoag people. One of our Thanksgiving dinner guests talked about her own Cherokee ancestry and how she was three generations removed from the Trail of Tears, President Jackson’s forced removal plan for Native Americans from the southeast to Oklahoma. She was raised as a “Wasp” and was unaware of her family history until she was a young adult. Her great-grandmother described what it was like when her family and fellow tribe members were uprooted from their homes for the long march to Oklahoma, during which some 4,000 Cherokee and other native peoples died from exhaustion and starvation. The great-grandmother also reflected on the strange looks her family endured when later they travelled from Oklahoma to Texas, though they had no idea why at the time and thought they were no different than the people they passed along the way.
The Post article paints a somber picture of the first Thanksgiving and provides some much-needed perspective. Though the Pilgrims were saved by the Wampanoag, the United States continued to take from them and other tribes and has done very little in return for Native Americans in the centuries since. Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude for the bounty in our lives, but it is also a day of reflection and remembrance, of our histories, both personal and as Americans, and of the losses and sacrifices made by the very people who were the original inspiration for this holiday.