To be sure, as a child, I celebrated any and every holiday that came down the proverbial pike. I saw them one and all as an opportunity to enjoy a little time away from the routine, be it the rigors of school lessons or the regular chores associated with life on a farm.
Still, certain holidays were more fun than others, especially for a little boy. I much preferred the opportunity to pinch people who had forgotten to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day than having to write out notes to all my classmates on St. Valentine’s Day. Others were appreciated largely for the food they afforded, such as cookouts on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.
But the most beloved were those in which I stood to gain. For instance, Halloween afforded an opportunity to amass a small horde of candy. Yet this paled in comparison to Christmas and New Year’s Day, which generally got me two whole weeks off from school with a living room floor full of toys to boot!
And yet, of all the holidays of my childhood, the one that seems to stand out the most in my memory is Thanksgiving. To begin with, it got me a four day weekend. That, in and of itself, was a rare luxury. (Let’s face it - every school child agrees that whoever thought of putting Thanksgiving on a Thursday instead of a Friday is to be lauded forever!)
But even without this added bonus, I grew to love this day. I quickly understood that it meant that I got to spend time with my extended family, and with my cousins in particular. What is more, all we were required to do was to be present for a massive family feast filled with a plethora of gastronomic delights.
In addition to turkey and dressing and ham and roast beef, there would generally be an assortment of side dishes that would make even those who planned the fifth Sunday dinner on the grounds at our local Baptist church envious!
Creamed corn, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes with giblet gravy, green beans with fatback, green bean casserole, black-eyed peas, fried okra, sweet potato soufflé, sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, deviled eggs, cornbread, biscuits, and rolls – invariably, it was all there!
And then there were the deserts! German Chocolate cake, Red Velvet cake, Carrot Cake, Lemon cake, Lemon Meringue pie, Apple pie, Fried Apple pies, Peach pie… Again, they were all to be seen. I can only hope The Marriage Supper of the Lamb will contain such items!
Given all this, the fact that anything else would stand out about Thanksgiving Day is noteworthy. And yet, such is precisely the case.
The year was 1970. The date was November 26. Even though I had just turned nine, given that I was born in late October, it was technically my tenth Thanksgiving on earth. And it was a day I will never forget – for two reasons…
First, as we were on our way to my paternal (Jackson) Grandparents’ house, we saw billowing black smoke and heard sirens. We soon ascertained that the location of the fire was somewhere north of us off 92 Highway, the main route running north and south west of our little dirt road. When we finally arrived on the scene some twenty minutes later, it turned out to be the old plantation home in the great curve on Lee’s Mill Road that was ablaze.
From my perspective, it was one of many such old home places that had long since become dilapidated and were now the abode of renting tenants. We stood in awe as the crews of multiple fire trucks fought in vain to save the venerable old wooden structure. I took note that my father in particular was disturbed by the experience. What I did not know then, and was only to discover later, was that this was the home of his own childhood.
For it was there that he, along with his parents and grandparents, had resided as sharecroppers, eking out a hardscrabble existence year after year in an all but vain attempt to better themselves.
The second event that occurred that memorable day was what I had witnessed earlier that morning. The house in which I was raised was situated on a farm about fifteen miles due south of what was then Hartsfield International Airport (itself located some twenty miles south of downtown Atlanta). We were on the glide path for its landings. (Indeed, an omnidirectional antennae was located barely a quarter of a mile from our house out in the woods.)
It was not uncommon for me to look out on the northern horizon of our pasture and watch airplanes land and take off with regularity. Nor was it uncommon to look up and see large aircraft descending or ascending overhead. On this particular morning, as I was outside awaiting our departure to my grandparents’ house, I looked up to behold a 747 jumbo jet.
I knew what it was because the “Weekly Reader” we had been given at school that very week had included an article on the largest ever passenger plane yet to be produced: the Boeing 747. I recognized it immediately because of its four turbofan engines and distinctive raised forward passenger deck and cockpit. It had been introduced in January of that year when it was christened by the First Lady in our nation’s capital; and yet, I was now seeing one overhead with my own eyes right here over our family’s farm.
These two sights - a blazing antebellum home and a gleaming new state-of-the-art jet airliner – will forever be emblazoned on my memory. Why? Perhaps it was because neither of these were everyday sights for a small lad growing up on a farm in rural Georgia in the early 1970s. But perhaps it was for another reason as well. Perhaps it was because of what they each represented.
While I may not have fully grasped it at the time, I nonetheless sensed that the antebellum house I beheld burning down bespoke the past, whereas the enormous jet plane i had witnessed overhead bespoke the future. Accordingly, the former world was clearly giving way to the latter world. And, by inference, I could chose to live either in the past or in the future!
This is not to say that either of these was more or less significant than the other. The past will always matter. After all, it largely determines who each of us is. But the future also matters. Because the past, as important as it is in giving us a heritage, is nowhere near as significant as the future! Where we can one day go, what we can one day do, and how we can one day turn out as a result will always be more significant than where we came from, what we once did, and who we once were!!
Astute readers will note that the previous sentence is punctuated with not one, but two exclamation points. I assure you that this was intentional, as I hope to underscore the significance of the statement.
I was raised in the south. And I am proud of that fact. But irrespective of the present narrative, this does not imply I was part of some elite caste that prospered at the expense of others. Like the majority of southerners, my family consisted of little more than sharecroppers who were bound by, and confined to, a system in which they were cemented for generations.
And yet, even though my grandfather’s schooling concluded at the end of the third grade (resulting in his barely being able to write his own name), and my father’s education ended after the tenth grade, I managed to actually finish high school and then go to college.
You see, in a world where PAN AM requested a massive airplane 2.5 times larger than anything yet in existence in order to reduce flight cost and “democratize” air travel, I found my own self in a position to take off and ascend to heights heretofore unknown by my forebears. I therefore applied myself accordingly.
I have lost count of the times I stood in our back yard in the years after that eventful Thanksgiving and observed one jumbo jet after another landing and taking off. But I will never forget the resolve I undertook each and every time. And that was that I myself would one day take to the skies and ascend ever upward and outward!
That very image has propelled me forward ever since. And for that, I will always be thankful. More than this, I will always celebrate!
What about you? Do you have reason to celebrate this Thanksgiving? Do you have more than just a heritage? Do you have opportunity as well? If so, then do not be hesitant. For (to quote the Apostle Paul in II Timothy 1:7), “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
So, wherever your previous context, whatever your present situation, and whatever your future presents, may you embrace the latter with passion as the Lord intends! No doubt, once you do, you will forever be grateful that you did. And you too will have reason to celebrate thenceforth and forever thereafter!
WEEKLY READER: https://archive.org/details/sim_my-weekly-reader-1_1969-1970_47_index/page/n1/mode/2up. The publication in question was Issue 20, page 1.