Many years ago as a small boy sitting at a crowded and noisy Thanksgiving Dinner, I learned a valuable lesson about turkey, politics, and priorities. It is a lesson that our national and state politicians have yet to learn – and it’s hurting all of us
As with most families, Thanksgiving has always been a big deal in our house. The women (yes, it was always the women) began planning and cooking for the big event days in advance. The relatives would come from far away and we would see those distant cousins that we really didn’t like but were expected to be nice to and play with at family holiday gatherings.
The day’s activities began at the television with the official kickoff event, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and then morphed into a college football game and then into an ever growing crowd of noisy adults that must be kissed hello and then ignored if possible.
This particular Thanksgiving was an especially memorable occasion for me as it was the first year that I was being promoted from the kids table in the corner to the big table with all the adults and most importantly, to a chair within arms reach of the turkey.
The plates were all served and since my father was a preacher, he was always called on to say grace, expressing thanks for all our bountiful blessings as a nation and our family in particular. I understood that this blessing was really supposed to be the main thing, the whole point of the holiday – giving thanks. But, to me, it always seemed way too long, especially as we were forced to sit quietly while the biggest and best meal of the year began to get cold sitting in front of us. Finally, the prayer ended and we could all begin eating.
There is an old saying that to ensure a harmonious occasion, one should avoid discussing politics and religion at the dinner table. With the exception of Uncle Fred, we were all Presbyterians so religion was never an issue. Fred was a rock-ribbed Southern Baptist but since he was so outnumbered by his in-laws, he had the rare good sense to remain quite about religion. However, he just couldn’t hold his tongue about politics – and thus my life lesson began.
Despite having a shared common Southern upbringing and heritage, our family had a surprisingly wide range of views about politics and they were not shy about expressing those views. And given that this was the early 60’s in the Deep South, there was no shortage of volatile topics to explore.
Well, when Uncle Fred made a racially charged reference to Dr. Martin Luther King, the place exploded.
In about two minutes, we went from polite conversation about the virtues of Aunt Nellie’s sweet potato casserole to loud insults about outside agitators and then straight to a virulent, full-throated defense of the Lost Cause by Aunt Betty Sue, proud Immediate Past President of the Greenville Mississippi chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
I didn’t understand very much of what was being said, but one thing was clear to me – while the adults were so busy fighting, they were totally ignoring the food, and I had a clear shot at all the good parts of the turkey.
Within about twenty minutes, the Battle of Thanksgiving Dinner had played itself out. Half the family was threatening to leave and the other half was wishing they would – and all were just plain mad as hell. As for me, it was my best Thanksgiving Dinner ever; I was fully entertained by the adults’ harangues while I gorged myself on the juiciest parts of the turkey.
This week, I thought about that long ago dinner as I watched the Democrats and Republicans in both Washington and Columbia bicker and fight about the latest trivial political issue of the day while the vast majority of Americans were worried about simply having a job and feeding their family.
Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi recent remarked about politics, “The main thing is to remember that the main thing is main thing.’ He is so right. Today, the politicians, like my family, have ceased to focus on ‘the main thing’.
People in this country are hurting and they are afraid. Economic forces they don’t understand are hurting them and they are afraid that events beyond their control are going to force them and their children into more pain and even downright poverty.
And when they look to our so-called leaders for help, they see nothing but senseless fighting and bickering, a government that is broken and a politics that is corrupt.
At Thanksgiving, the main thing is to come together as a family and give thanks for all of our many blessing. In politics, the main thing is for our leaders to come together and find solutions to our countries problems.
The main thing is the main thing – at Thanksgiving and every day.