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Régions du monde > La Nouvelle-Angleterre > Grandpa's complete Thanksgiving story, by H.J.Gammage
Grandpa's complete Thanksgiving story, by H.J.Gammage
Publié par EF041008 le 27/11/2008
Coming from downstairs I heard the clanking of knives and forks scraping against plates at the dinner table. I heard the loud laughter roar up the stairway, the whole family laughing at a joke or something silly said by my Uncle Berry.
Berry is funny. He’s my favorite uncle. Downstairs, my Mom’s turkey filled the house with smell of Thanksgiving. Browned
turkey, bubbling gravy, buttered smashed potatoes...

Coming from downstairs I heard the clanking of knives and forks scraping against plates at the dinner table. I heard the loud laughter roar up the stairway, the whole family laughing at a joke or something silly said by my Uncle Berry.
Berry is funny. He’s my favorite uncle. Downstairs, my Mom’s turkey filled the house with smell of Thanksgiving. Browned
turkey, bubbling gravy, buttered smashed potatoes.
The whole house smelled great, except up here in my room, which only smelled of this greasy, stinky stuff called Vick’s VapoRub. Using Vick’s is like picking your nose with an ice cycle. It’s cold and it stings.
 Then, when your nose is clear, all you can smell is that stingy-medicine stink that smells like my Grandma’s perfume (Uncle Berry says her favorite perfume is called Ben Gay).

I’m really bummed. I just turned nine, and Mom promised that I’d get to sit at the big
table with the grown-ups at Thanksgiving this year. But I got sick. I tried to fool my Mom to make her think that I was getting better, but when I hurled my strawberry Jell-O all over my little brother this afternoon, I think that I may have given myself away. 

Of course, seeing Bobby dripping in the red goo that came up from my stomach made it almost worth it. I think he’s plotting to get even, though. He sleeps in the top bunk, and I saw him drinking lots of water this afternoon. I think I’ll sleep with an umbrella tonight. Mom used to put the Vick’s rub on my chest.

This time, she put it on my feet! She said if you put Vick’s on your feet and wear wool socks to bed, it
helps your cough.  Uncle Berry said that’s an old wives tale. Dad said that’s okay because Mom is an old wife. Mom said Dad will be sleeping on the couch tonight. 
My bedroom door slowly creaked open and I was afraid that it was my Mom coming in to re-grease my feet, or maybe my Dad coming in to borrow a blanket for his night on the couch.
But instead, it was my Grandpa, shuffling in with a big smile
on his face. Grandma says that he smiles more now because he wants to show off his new dentures. I asked what dentures were, and Uncle Berry said they’re fake teeth. 
He said Grandpa’s old ones were wooden and left splinters in his lips.
I said, “really?”, and he said no, Grandpa is just smiling because the battery in his hearing-aid died and he can’t hear Grandma anymore.
Then Dad said no, he can hear, it’s just tuned into the NFL frequency, and that seemed to earn him another night at a place Mom keeps calling the Sofa Hilton.

Holidays can be full of all kinds of confusing talk from grown-ups.
“How’re we feeling, Tommy?” he asked. That question confused me. Why did he ask how we are feeling? How am I supposed to know how he feels? So, to play it safe, I just asked, “Can you hear me okay? Is your hearing-aid tuned into the Tommy frequency?”“I’m always tuned into the Tommy frequency, my boy,” he said and started lowering his rump into the little wooden chair next to my bed.

Why does it take grandparents so long to reach their seats when they sit? And what is all that cracking and popping that goes on in their bones while they do it?
 Uncle Berry said watching Grandpa sit down is like watching instant replay onthe football game. I asked what instant replay meant, and Dad said it’s what Mom uses to remind him whenever he’s wrong. 
Again, another night at the Sofa Hilton. He seems to be spending a lot of time there.

“We missed you at dinner, Tommy. Your Mom said this was supposed to be a special
time for you, huh? Sitting up with the grown-ups?” “Yeah,” I said. “I really wanted to sit up there so I can hear Uncle Berry’s jokes.”I noticed a book his lap.

He saw me looking at it and he got a really big smile on his
face. Did he really have wooden teeth once? 
“Since you’re getting to be a big boy now, I wanted to read this story to you. You’re old enough to understand it now.”

I read the title: The Complete Story of Thanksgiving.

“Oh, I already know the story of Thanksgiving, Grandpa. They taught it to us in
school.”“Well, let’s just see how much they taught you.” 

I propped myself up in bed and he opened the book his lap and fiddled with his glasses, cleared his throat, and started to read:
 “On August 1, 1620, the people who lived near the harbor in England watched the passengers board fourmasted ship, preparing to set sail for a long journey.

Mayflower was only about 106 feet long and 25 feet wide. She had previously been used to carry barrels of wine, so she was accustomed to heavy loads and strong seas. “Instead of wishing the passengers a cheerful bon voyage, many of the people on the docks that day were likely saying ‘good riddance!’ to most of the passengerspreparing to leave the country forever.”

“What’s good riddance mean, Grandpa?” I interrupted.
 “It means they were happy to see them leave.”“Why?” “Well, let’s read on and see, shall we?” he replied.

A smell traveled across my nose and I knew that Grandpa had let go one of his oopsies. It happens when he gets excited. Vick’s VapoRub mixed with Grandpa oopsie. All I could do was hold my breath and continue to listen.

“Some of the passengers were called Separatists, meaning that they had ‘separated’
themselves from the way the Church of England wanted them to worship God. They referred to themselves as Pilgrims, and they were leaving because they wanted to be free to worship God how they wanted to, not how the King of England told them they had to worship.” 

“How can the King tell someone how to worship God? The King is not God.”
“That’s right, Tommy. They weren’t allowed to worship God they way they wanted, sothey had to sail way across the Ocean to a new place where they could worship freely.” 

“They must have had some really nice churches in that place called the New World,
huh?” “Well, let’s just see what they had once they got there, shall we?” he said, and started reading again. “Under the command of Captain Christopher Jones, The Mayflower carried 102 passengers, including forty Pilgrims lead by William Bradford. And the trip across the ocean was very tough.

Storms and high winds blew them off course. They didn’t reach the New World until November 11—almost three months at sea. Because of storms and hurricanes, the trip took longer than they’d prepared for, so they had run very low on food and water. They were tired, hungry, and, since the scarcity of fresh water aboard the ship made bathing impossible the entire journey—they were pretty ripe.

“While they were anchored, getting ready to go ashore, William Bradford gathered the Pilgrims to set up an agreement, a contract, that would give all the rules and laws by which the Pilgrims would live in this new land. It was the first democratic document to be written in America, and was known as the Mayflower Compact.”
 “Compact? Isn’t that what Mom uses to keep her make up in?”

“No, Tommy. In this case, Compact means they were rules for how they’d treat each
other. These were going to be the rules they would live by.”“We have rules at school. Teacher puts the top ten on the classroom wall. The one I hate most is ‘no chewing gum.’ “The top ten are on the wall, Tommy? Kind of like the Ten Commandments from the Bible.

Did you know that the Pilgrims based the rules on how they were going to live
together on the Bible.” “Wow. I didn’t know that.” “Tommy, remember when you said that you bet that there were going to be really nice churches and stuff in the New World? Well, it turned out, there was nothing at all for them when they got there. This is what William Bradford wrote in his journal …” “William Bradford kept a journal?” “Yes.” “Like, you mean, he wrote stuff down?” “Yes.” “And his teacher didn’t even make him?” “This is what he wrote, Tommy: ‘The land is a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. There were no friends to greet them. There were no houses to shelter them. There were no inns where they could refresh themselves.’” “Wow. No inns – you mean like no hotels and stuff?” “That’s right, Tommy.” 

He read on:
“They called their settlement Plymouth, and the place where they landed is called Plymouth Rock. That first winter was harsh. They had to quickly figure out how to build homes and shelters for themselves. Because they arrived just as winter was setting in, they had no harvest of crops to eat and had to rely on whatwas left of the provisions they had stored on The Mayflower to sustain them. And there wasn’t much.

They had to water down their cereal to
make one bowl last several days …” “Eeew! Yuck! Watered down Captain Crunch!” “Well, Tommy, it was actually called gruel. And it probably tasted as bad as it sounds.They also had to eat salted or dried meat, hard biscuits …” “Like Mom’s biscuits!” “Do you want to sleep at the Sofa Hilton with your Dad?” “Sorry.” He read on: “Because they were new to this wilderness, they didn’t know what kind ofgame there was to hunt for food. In that first winter, half of the Pilgrims died of either starvation, sickness, or from the freezing cold.
This death toll also included William Bradford’s own wife.
“When Spring came, Captain Jones was ready to take The Mayflower back to England. He figured with the horrible winter and all the deaths that the Pilgrims had suffered that they were ready to give up and come back with him. But they believed so strongly that this was where God wanted them to be, they said no, and they stayed.

“They started to plant for their fall harvest. They knew they would have to work hard all spring and summer farming the land in order to have plenty of food in order to survive the next winter. “They met an Indian named Squanto. Squanto knew the land well, and taught them how to plant corn, the kind of game that was bountiful in hunting here, how to skin beavers for coats, rugs and blankets to stay warm, and how to fish the surrounding waters. Had it not been for Squanto’s help, they all would have likely died the next winter.” 

“Hey, Grandpa, at school there’s a kid named Billy Peterson. And at recess we play Cowboys and Indians and Billy always plays an Indian, except he’ll only say things like ‘Ugh’
and ‘How’, because he says the Indians didn’t speak English.”
 “Well, Tommy, they were from a land different from where the Pilgrims came from, so, yes, they had their own language. But the Pilgrims were lucky enough to have met an Indian who spoke English.” 

“How did Squanto learn English?”
 “You know, Tommy, that’s actually a good question. See, at that time, lots of explorers came over to the New World to check it out before the Pilgrims settled there. Not all of them were as nice to the natives as the Pilgrims. Squanto had been kidnapped and taken to Spain where he was going to be sold into slavery. But some leaders of the church there rescued him, and he fled to England where he lived with a shipbuilder who taught him English. It was five years before he was able to get back to his home in North America to be with his family.” 

“Wow, Grandpa, what a yucky thing to happen.”
 “Tommy, didn’t you learn in Sunday school a couple of weeks ago that God makes allthings work for good?” “Yeah. Even bad stuff that we don’t understand.” “Well, that’s a good lesson to learn from Squanto. Had he not been taken from his home, he would never have learned English, and would not have been able to help the Pilgrims—and they would have died.” “God is cool!”

And Grandpa read on:“The Pilgrims also made friends with a nearby native tribe. That autumn, they saw that their harvest was successful. They had enough food, skins, and warm clothes to make it through the winter. They celebrated by inviting the Chief of the nearby tribe and his braves for a festival that lasted for three days.

They had foot races, wrestling
matches, and lots of food to eat that included game that the Pilgrims had learned to hunt: Deer, turkey, ducks, rabbits, and fish.” “So that would have been the first Thanksgiving,” I blurted. “And it lasted for three days! Uncle Berry sure would have been happy—three days of football!”“Well, I don’t think football had been invented at that time.”

“That’s good. I don’t think Dad would want to watch the Lions lose three days in a row. Was John Madden at least there with the Tur-Ducken?”
“I don’t think so, Tommy.” “Wow. So the Indians also taught the Pilgrims how to throw a Thanksgiving Party!”


Well, Tommy, not necessarily. Remember how The Mayflower
Compact was based on the Bible? Well, the feast was also probably based on God’s word, too. In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to have three celebrations a year to give thanks and remember all God had done for them when He was leading them out of slavery in Egypt.

One of the celebrations was a fall celebration to give thanks to God for their harvest.”
 “Wow! God is everywhere in Thanksgiving!” “That’s right, Tommy. The Pilgrims held the feast to give thanks to God, and theyinvited their Indian friends to join in the celebration.”“Wow.”“There’s more.”

And he read on:
“The Pilgrims still had a lot of work ahead of them in order to build a successful society in this New World. They elected William Bradford as their Governor. He had to make sure that enough food and goods were produced so that they could grow and prosper. So, everything the Pilgrims grew, made, produced, or built went into one common store.” “Common store? What does that mean, Grandpa?”
“It meant that everything they grew or built was shared equally with everyone else. No one owned anything.
It didn’t matter who grew it or built it, everyone was entitled to it. Even the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to everyone and was handed out equally.”
“Well, that makes sense. Everyone shared.”“It sounds good. But it didn’t work.”“It didn’t?”

Grandpa read on: “Bradford realized that this common sharing was causing just as much damage to the Pilgrims as that first harsh winter. He quickly realized that the most creative and hardest-working people had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else. They weren’t motivated to be the best that they could be.

Grandpa saw the confused look on my face and said, “What that means is it wasn’t fair for those who worked hard to give to others who didn’t want to work at all.”
“Oh, kind of like that school project teacher had me, Joey Winkle, and Billy Petersonwork on. Me and Joey did all the work. Billy didn’t do anything, but still got the same grade we got. Billy never does any work.

That wasn’t fair.”
 Grandpa read on:
“Bradford decided to try something bold. Instead of sharing equally, he assigned each of the colonists a piece of land that they could produce whatever they wanted, however much they wanted, and trade it freely. This turned out to be so successful, they were producing so many goods, the stores were filled, and they were trading with the natives and each other.

They set up trading posts, exchanged other goods and services with the Indians, furthering their relationships with the natives.
 “Word traveled fast back to Europe as to how the Pilgrim colony was thriving. People
started flocking to the English harbors to make the journey across the sea and start a new life in America.

It became known as ‘The Great Puritan Migration’, and the land grew and grew until it became the great America that thrived to become what it is today—and the land for which we give Thanks today.”
 “Wow. That Bradford was a smart guy. Where did he get the idea to do that?”“Where do you think, Tommy?” “Uh … from the Bible?” 

Remember from Sunday school the story of Joseph when he told Pharaoh to
reduce taxes on the Egyptians during the years of plenty? God’s word says in Genesis 41:47 …’and the earth brought forth in heaps.’” “I brought forth heaps all over my little brother this afternoon when I hurled my Jell-O all over him.”“Not those kind of heaps, Tommy.”

“And that all happened because that Bradford guy let the Pilgrims be the best that they
could be?”“Very good, Tommy.” “I wish Billy Peterson could learn to be the best that he can be. He’s always mooching off my homework and stuff.” “Maybe you can teach him. He’s your friend.”“Well, he’s not really my friend. But he is a nice kid at times, though. Except whenhe’s giving wedgies.”“Well, I’m sure you can help him find something he’s good at doing.”  “He’s good at giving wedgies.” “Help him find something else. And then remind him to be thankful to God for it. Because that’s what Thanksgiving is all about.”

He folded his book up and stood up, those creaking and popping sounds coming from his bones again. He gave me a smile and I still didn’t see any wood splinters cutting his lips or anything, so I guess Uncle Berry was serious about his new teeth.

“Get some rest now, Tommy.
 And he started walking toward the door. “Grandpa,” I said as he turned the knob. He looked over at me. “I’m thankful to God for you.”  “And I’m thankful for you.” He left and slowly closed the door behind him.
Downstairs I could hear the clanking of dishes and silverware again, and I knew Mom was serving up Grandma’s pumpkin pie. I’d be sitting at the grown-up table for that, too, if I could be down there. But I wasn’t so sad now.

For some reason, I felt more grown up from hearing the full story of Thanksgiving than I would have felt sitting at the grown-up table listing to Uncle Berry’s jokes. Maybe it was from learning something new. Or maybe it was just from spending time alone with Grandpa, talking.
 And I drifted off to sleep, trying to come up with something Billy Peterson was good atother than wedgies … The End

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