Dave Paxton

My wife and I really didn’t have to think about changing plans for Thanksgiving this year because half of our family is in Alabama for the holiday. The other half will fit nicely under what the governor and Iowa health officials think is the optimum number of people to have dinner with…a number I think is questionable at the very least.

I find it ironic that out of fear of COVID-19, the government is warning (some actually threatening arrest) against Thanksgiving gatherings over 10 people, when Thanksgiving was created to be celebrated in the face of great adversity.

The Mayflower arrived on the shores of Plymouth Rock in the fall of 1620, half of the Pilgrims died before the first year was over, but with the help of Squanto and his Native American tribe, they were able to plant and harvest a corn crop. Still they faced another winter of disease and starvation and yet they paused to give thanks to God for bringing them to this new land and the help of the local tribes.

Want some more irony. Abraham Lincoln was the first U.S. President to create an official date for Thanksgiving, following the Union victory at Gettysburg in July of 1863. But the Civil War still raged by the fall of 1863. Still, Lincoln saw the need to have the nation pause to give thanks. Then, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Thanksgiving a national holiday on Dec. 20, 1941, two weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s declaration of war against the Japanese and Germany’s declaration of war against the U.S.

Are you seeing a trend here? When we, as a nation, are at our most vulnerable moments, we have need to give thanks to God almighty.

In November of 1918, after the Spanish Flu had killed 198,000 Americans in the month of October alone, there was a near revolt of the American public over mask mandates, quarantines, business, school and church closings. Of course, physicians were prescribing gauze masks which essentially created a moist bed for the virus, but the cry from cities like San Francisco was to toll the church bells for people to return to worship and call out the “autocracy” of government overreach.

See, Americans have always prized liberty and cried out to be free, even when it sometimes doesn’t make the best medical sense. Frankly, the Civil War, WWI and WWII didn’t make a whole lot of sense in medical terms. A lot of people died.

Curtailing Thanksgiving to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is like trying to rope the wind. We need Thanksgiving, perhaps not for our physical health, but for our emotional, mental and spiritual health.

My advice (if anyone is asking and they’re not) is be as safe as you can. Be respectful as you can. Be as fearless as you can. And by all means, with whomever you’re with, be as thankful as you can.

At some level, Thanksgiving morning, especially, is one of my few “blue” times of the year. It has to do with how I was raised on our small farm in southwest Tama County. It has to do with the fact that my mother loved Thanksgiving. It was her holiday. She did Christmas in pretty grand fashion, but never really cared who was present under her tree on Christmas morning.

She did want us all present at Thanksgiving and when one of the clan was missing, she was a little sad.

My Czech grandmother had dibs on Christmas until she died from multiple-myeloma at the age of 66, but Thanksgiving was almost always at our farm home and when my brother and I got old enough to drive, it was our duty to fetch our widowed great aunts from Montour and bring them out to the farm. My great Uncle Rudy would often show up to shout at my grandfather, not because they were mad, but because of profound hearing loss.

We packed the house at Thanksgiving, sometimes around more than one table in the dining room and kitchen.

As we grew older and our great aunts and uncles passed, a new tradition formed up around a morning of pheasant hunting. Often times I’d bring my family (including my hunting dog) in the night before so that I could arise early, meet up with my brothers and head out for a morning of hunting. Occasionally, we would have a bird or two to dress and stick in the oven to join the turkey. More often we’d dress our birds and take them home.

In our teens, 20’s and 30’s, even into our 40’s, post Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t about napping around an NFL football game, but heading out to my grandparent’s huge front yard for touch football. My brothers and brother-in-law, our older nephews, even our wives would join us in a tradition that actually started when my brother and I were just kids.

Back then, the neighborhood had about a dozen boys all around the same age, a football game of catch between my brother and me would grow into a full-blown game of touch/tackle as our buddies would escape their own Thanksgiving dinners to play.

In 1995 those glorious Thanksgivings all changed when breast cancer took my mother. For a few years we would still gather with our father at the farm, did the pheasant hunt and enjoyed our growing families, but my father remarried and eventually moved from our farm home and Thanksgiving fell to each of the five siblings and their own Thanksgiving observances.

A big gathering of the clan was moved to between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Still happens.

My mother would likely not approve of my feeling a little blue on Thanksgiving morning. She was a Thanksgiving woman, except 365 days a year. So usually I’m up early on Thanksgiving morning, almost always taking whatever dog I have in tow for a walk, with or without a shotgun. I split some wood, stay out of my wife’s way until it’s time to carve the bird and then enjoy the day with family and friends who might be with us.

That isn’t going to change come Thursday. And I’m hoping the truer meaning of Thanksgiving, that of thanking our Creator not only for the blessings of health, wealth and safety, but for being there in times of sadness and despair is not lost.

There is not a governor or a public health official in the world than can deny us that.

A moment of grandparenting pleasure. My wife and I walked up our new long lane shrouded by timber to where our retirement cabin is being built with our eight-year-old grandson on Sunday to view the progress. He ran ahead, found one of two giant piles of dirt and began throwing dirt clods, seeing how far he could jump to create a landslide and rolling down the pile.

We see a pile of dirt and clay as something for the dozer guys to flatten out for our future yard. He sees it as a mountain to climb, a source of weaponry, a high ground to defend. If only I still had that kind of vision.

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