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We Loveland: Conversation at the Thanksgiving Table

Commemorating the signing of the Mayflower Compact; bas-relief tablets in Provincetown

Between the delicious quiet when everyone at the Thanksgiving table is focused on the turkey and stuffing, conversation is what makes for a true feast. I think Thanksgiving – my favorite of all holidays, the one I truly feel – has special resonance here in Provincetown, where the Pilgrims, as we call them, first landed in. What could be more remarkable on Thanksgiving than to stand in the wet cold, somewhere near their point of arrival at Land’s End, thinking about what that harsh life had been? Or to think of the “Indians,” the Meeshawn who lived here, and what soon after became of them? And then to think of our nation that grew from Land’s End, and everything that followed…

Thanksgiving Day is in fact quite complicated, but, despite the mythology, I suppose the child in me hopes there is some corn kernel of truth in the idea that strangers from two sides of the world once found some common humanity. And I do think it’s a good idea to come together to share thanks for whatever the meaning of “bounty” may be: family, friendship, safety, good fortune, the ties that bind.

If everyone at the table raised a glass to their thankfulness, would it be too sentimental to spark good conversation? I’m not sure; likely better to do it in the way that feels most true.

But as I was considering what to give thanks for this year, I started searching for quotations on thankfulness. I found quotes from O. Henry and Victor Hugo, Oprah Winfrey and the queer writer Ellen Orleans. A rather funny, limited bunch. There are no readily searchable quotes from Native Americans on what Thanksgiving means to them. I’d be curious to know.

Then I thought of an old PBS series I loved as a child, The Meeting of the Minds, where Steve Allen hosted a round-table discussion of various dead legends. Each actor was in period dress, and they talked about various things that went over my head. But I loved the costumes and all of these notables – who didn’t live at the same time in real life – sitting around together, talking. I put this seating chart together, with Meeting of Minds in mind, and thankfulness at Thanksgiving. I gave a Meeshawn chief a place at the table.

1. There is one day that is ours. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American.

- O. Henry

2. Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.

- Oprah Winfrey

3. The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.

- William Blake

4. Heap high the board with plenteous cheer and gather to the feast/ And toast the sturdy Pilgrim band whose courage never ceased. - Alice W. Brotherton

5. If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share.

- W. Clement Stone

6. My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor.

- Phyllis Diller

7. Pride slays thanksgiving, but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.

- Henry Ward Beecher

8. I have strong doubts that the first Thanksgiving even remotely resembled the “history” I was told in second grade. But considering that (when it comes to holidays) mainstream America’s traditions tend to be over-eating, shopping, or getting drunk, I suppose it’s a miracle that the concept of giving thanks even surfaces at all.

- Ellen Orleans

9. What would he say?

- Meeshawn Chief

10. Gratitude is richness. Complaint is poverty.

- Doris Day

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