Thanksgiving – a national time to put away our differences and recognize the commonality among us

By: Paul Apfel Inside Lincoln Correspondent
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Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday throughout the country, drawing on the early colonial experiences of the Pilgrims who arrived in 1620 in what is now New England. Romanticized over the years in holiday parades and Victorian poetry, Thanksgiving remains a tribute to the unique qualities of the unlikely coalition of those early American settlers and their Native American compatriots. As genealogy has gained popularity, more of our citizens are discovering their ties to those first New Englanders, and in so doing, have gained a new appreciation for their roots. We do not have a Mayflower Society in Lincoln, although we are acutely aware and proud of our Western history. First, let’s review the history, courtesy of author Nathanial Philbrick who penned a very excellent account of the Pilgrims and their early days in his 2006 book, “Mayflower.” Philbrick noted that, as of 2002, an estimated 35 million descendants of the Mayflower passengers were living in the United States. As one of that number, this columnist has a special interest in this unique period in our cultural history. We count Thomas Rogers (1587-1620), our grandfather from earlier generations, as one of the Mayflower passengers. Unfortunately, grandfather Rogers was killed before the end of 1620, leaving a son, Joseph, to become part of the colony’s Gov. William Bradford’s extended family. In Philbrick’s account of that first Thanksgiving, the feast’s exact date is uncertain, although it likely occurred in late September or early October 1621, almost a year after the Mayflower’s landing at Plymouth. This would have been soon after the Pilgrims harvested their crop of corn, squash, beans, barley and peas. It was also a time when a tremendous number of migrating birds, particularly ducks and geese, made tempting targets for Gov. Bradford’s hunters. Approximately 100 Pokanoket Native Americans joined the celebration, bringing freshly killed deer to the feast, according to Philbrick. Apparently, wild turkeys were also available. Philbrick’s assessment of the first Thanksgiving is that it marked “...the conclusion of a remarkable year. Eleven months earlier, the Pilgrims had arrived at the tip of Cape Cod, fearful and uninformed. They had spent the next month alienating and angering every Native American they happened to come across. By all rights, none of the Pilgrims should have emerged from the first winter alive.” “That it had worked out differently was a testament not only to the Pilgrim’s grit, resolve and faith, but to their ability to take advantage of an extraordinary opportunity,” continued Philbrick’s account. It was clear that, although there were profound differences between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, the mutual challenge of survival prevailed as both peoples recognized they had more in common than is generally understood today. Fast forward to Lincoln 2011, where we polled a few residents to develop a sense of how the holiday plays out in their lives this year. Steve and Linda Witmer’s holiday feast will include their daughter and her family - husband plus two children - as well as Steve’s 100-year old mother. Visalia transplants Harlean and Lloyd Ellis will host son, Kevin; and his wife, traveling to Lincoln from Galt and their daughter from Fresno. Lincoln artist Jean Cross and husband Dan will spend a quiet Thanksgiving holiday in preparation for a more ambitious Christmas vacation with their 5-month old twin granddaughters in San Luis Obispo. According to Ms. Cross, “this will probably be a new tradition for the rest of our lives.” “A house full of family” is the way Lincoln City Councilman Tom Cosgrove describes his upcoming holiday. “For most of the past 40 years, the extended family has met at my mother-in-law’s home in Paradise for a traditional Thanksgiving weekend,” Cosgrove said. “At times, there have been well over 25 people at the dinner table.” This year the Cosgroves will host the family gathering in Lincoln. “Thanksgiving is a very special time for our families and we enjoy sharing that time with the people we love,” Cosgrove added. Tom and Joyce Bauer are looking forward to restoring family bonds and reestablishing familiar ties grown stale by geography and time as they welcome family from the Bay Area, Las Vegas and Raleigh, N.C. Festivities may include a visit to the Lincoln Hill bocce courts or a foursome for the golf course while others gather in the Bauer kitchen to prepare the meal, share stories and reminisce. Wines from brother-in-law Bill’s collection in Oakland, where he has owned a successful winery for years, will highlight and augment traditional feasting fare, followed by the pie and pastries. But not all Lincolnites will remain at home. New residents John and Judy Engelmann, recently arrived from the Texas hill country, will travel to Reno to visit their daughter and family. And this columnist and his wife, mindful of the sailing traditions that underlay the Thanksgiving tradition, will be at sea for the holiday, although the accommodations are expected to be somewhat more luxurious than those endured in 1620. All Americans should remember that 390 years ago, in 1621, the year of that first Thanksgiving, Pilgrims and Native Americans put aside their differences to celebrate their mutual survival as they realized their common bonds. We would do well to repeat this lesson from history and recognize that our mutual survival and prosperity depend upon cooperation and understanding, not conflict and destructive disagreement.