Thanksgiving Lessons from My Parents

img_4816This morning, I woke up to find a light layer of snow on the ground. Time to get the last of the wood stacked. Time to bring in the the fire pit. Everything else is pretty much done, which means that Clif and I can hunker down and get ready for the holidays.

As it is only two days away, Thanksgiving, of course, is utmost on my mind. Today is a day of preparation—baking the squash for squash bread, cooking the green beans for the green bean casserole, and cleaning the house. Tomorrow, I will make squash bread as well as green bean casserole, and I also hope to make yeast rolls. We’ll see. I broke down and bought store-bought bread for the stuffing. We all love stuffing, and I’ll be making a double batch, one to go in the turkey and one in a casserole dish. I have leftover stock from the gravy, and I’ll use that stock for the casserole stuffing, which is never as tasty as the one that goes in the turkey, but it will be good nonetheless.

Nowadays, it has become fashionable, on Facebook and elsewhere, to give thanks for the many good things in life. I happen to think that counting one’s blessings is a fine idea, good spiritual practice, if you will. This does not mean ignoring the painful or the negative. Far from it. However, most of us dwell quite enough on the negative parts of life. We need no reminders to count our misfortunes.

So I am going to follow suit and give thanks for a lesson my Franco-American parents taught me, a lesson about poverty and respect, two words that are so far apart in today’s society that there seems little hope in bringing them together.

Both of my parents grew up in very poor families. My mother lived with her mother and grandmother in a tiny apartment whose floors were so cold in the winter that they all had to wear their boots to stay warm. As there was only one bedroom—for her mother and grandmother—my mother had to sleep in the hall.

My father lived with both his parents, but money was still tight. He went to school with patches on his clothes and nearly died when his appendix ruptured because his parents didn’t have health insurance. (Thank God for the family doctor who demanded that my father be admitted and treated in the hospital, despite the lack of insurance. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this today.)

Neither of my parents starved, but neither of them had quite as much to eat as they would have liked, and they often weren’t able to have exactly what they wanted. For my father, store-bought whoopie pies were an unaffordable treat that he longed for. My mother often commented on how my grandmother could put together a meal when the cupboards seemed bare.

Both my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather worked in a factory, but this was before the days of strong unions and decent pay. My grandparents worked hard, but they were still poor, and the lesson my parents taught me was this: people, through no fault of their own, could indeed work hard and still be poor. My parents felt strongly that those who lived in poverty did not deserve our scorn. On the contrary, they deserved our respect, and in our house, we never looked down on people because they were poor. Never. (Laziness and lack of cleanliness were another matter, but my parents did not associate these traits with poverty.)

As Thanksgiving approaches, I give thanks that my parents taught me to respect those who are poor, to understand that hard work, cleanliness, and poverty are not incompatible. It is a lesson I wish the rest of the country would take to heart.

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