Thanksgiving, then and now.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was on TV this morning while I swept the living room in anticipation for our guests. There are few things that take me back to my childhood as much as the smell of turkey and the sound of the parade on TV.

I immediately thought of Grandma McCool. I have never met anyone as blessed with the gift of hospitality as Grandma. She welcomed strangers and family alike into her house, usually with a joke and an offer for snacks. It wasn’t uncommon when I was a kid to have people I had never met at our family Thanksgiving, though they always fell into the comfortable routine that was the McCool Thanksgiving.

Grandma had a way of doing that. Her house was always warm and inviting, regardless of the weather outside. And there were a few things we could plan on every Thanksgiving: Aunt Thelma’s noodles; the men congregating in the living room for football, the women congregating around the dining room table feeding the kids; Aunt Elaine’s cheeseball for afternoon snack; and for more food than we could have ever eaten in one meal.

My personal favorite part of Thanksgiving was Christmas Craft Time. Grandma’s love of family and food at Thanksgiving was eclipsed only by her love of Christmas, and that began as soon as the last plate was cleared from Thanksgiving lunch. She would plot all summer, surprising us on Thanksgiving Day with what craft she had planned. Often it required Grandpa to do some prep work, cutting candy cane shapes out of wood or cutting material to fit the frames of whatever project that year had in store. Even when we grandkids were older – nearly adults – we would roll our eyes when Grandma would say, “Craft time!!”… yet, we always found ourselves, gathering around the dining room table, smiling together as we glued and cut and painted.

So this morning, when Jon noticed some Thanksgiving craft supplies I had stocked away for this afternoon for the kids, my voice caught when I said, “Yes, I have lots of crafts ready for them.”

I am turning into Grandma McCool… and today, I’m thankful for that.

Thanksgiving at my house will never be what it was at hers, at least not for a few decades. Aside from the strangers welcomed in, her house was always full of family who loved each other deeply; my house is usually filled with friends who are in our Army family. This year, we’re literally mid-move; the moving truck is parked in our driveway and our house is decorated with empty walls and brown boxes. But the smell of turkey permeates the air, and our house soon will be filled with guests.

My hope is that, in twenty years when my kids think of what Thanksgiving was like in their childhood, they will remember more than turkey, more than the Macy parade, even more than crafts – that they will remember the friends who filled our house. My hope is that they’ll inherit their great-grandma’s hospitality, kindness, and warmth.

Grandma McCool passed away in 2010. Even on the holidays when Jonathan, the kids and I stay where the Army has placed us – not home with our family – her absence is still palpable.

I imagine, if Grandma were a guest in my house today, she would be wearing a turtleneck with an embroidered Thanksgiving sweatshirt over it. When I called to her, she would say, “Just a jiffy!”.. then she and I would “worsh” the dishes together. And after the clean-up was done, she would find her great-grandkids, say, “Craft time!” – and watch them with all her love while they glue and cut and paint.

Ransom was just a baby when she died; Lenora never met her. But they’ll know her, they’ll know all about her… because they’ll know that we celebrate Thanksgiving the way we do, because of Grandma McCool.

White Privilege and Elementary Thanksgiving

Yesterday I was in the car with my kindergartner and my first grader, driving home from school. They were telling me about what they had learned in school about Native Americans, given the quickly-approaching Thanksgiving holiday.

Ransom, my kindergartner, made a passing comment about how there are no Native Americans around today. I said, “Well, that’s not true. There are Native Americans today. Most of the time they wear clothes like the ones we wear. Sometimes on the reservations they do dress in traditional ways.”

This led to a further conversation about reservations, Native Americans, white people, slavery, and the early days of our country. We talked about how we, as a country, have not always treated people nicely and made good decisions. We talked about how white people made Native Americans leave their land and claimed it as their own.

We pulled into the driveway, and as he was getting out of the car, Ransom said, “I sure am glad I’m… (pause)… not one of those guys… I’m glad I’m not a Native American. Or a slave.”

    He’s glad he’s white. Those are the words he was looking for and couldn’t find.

At first, it caught me off guard. This is the LAST thing I want my kids to think – that, somehow, being white is preferred over being a person of color.

And yet, the truth of that statement struck me as profound. He’s glad he’s white, because – at five years old – he recognizes the position of privilege he has and did nothing to earn.

And when we start to recognize the privilege that we have because of the color of our skin, we acknowledge the ramifications of that privilege on others.

 

We recognize that, when we don’t get pulled over because of the car we drive and the color of our skin, someone else is getting pulled over, because of the car they drive and the color of their skin.

We recognize that, though life isn’t necessarily easy, though there are always obstacles, there are more obstacles in the path of a person of color.

We recognize that we have an inherent trust in police officers and the government based on our experiences, but many people of color do not share those experiences.

We recognize that the system works for us, but the system doesn’t work for everyone.

 

I’m thankful that my five-year-old is glad he’s white, because that gives me hope that, as he gets older, he’ll continue to recognize his privilege and be an advocate, both by using his voice and – even more so – by listening to those with experiences different from his. Pretending every person has the same access to resources and opportunities accomplishes nothing but intensify the access of the privileged. If we continue to do this, today’s 5-year-olds of color will grow up in a world no more welcoming and equal than the world of their parents and grandparents.