Not so big into Easter over here, or Valentine’s, or Mother’s or Father’s Day (let’s spend some more time with the kids!), but every year there is something which undeniably tugs about Thanksgiving, even if it’s only the suspicion that we are all being thankful about the wrong things. I mean, the pilgrims are a pretty great story, and the Native Americans who taught them to bury fish heads near their corn, but really – year after year? Even if we’re limiting ourselves to forebears, there are conceivably better justifications for reuniting with your family and plugging your face full of turkey – a little penance, a little indulgence – or anyway it seems a shame to waste the rueful daze.
So forget, just this once, the earth-toned displays of Wampanoags and Englishmen staring meaningfully at each other, and let us flash forward instead to a couple hundred years later when equally emblematic dreamers like Leslie Connor’s Miss Bridie arrived on these shores - with no porcelain doodads to remind them of the old country, no chiming keepsakes, only a shovel, because what could be more optimistic than that? If we are indeed a kind of exceptional nation, founded, built, and occasionally rescued by pioneers, then we could probably do better for evidence than a doddering legend from Plymouth, George Washington crossing the Delaware, and this week’s offerings from Glenn Beck University.
Because history can be living, it can be unruly, and it doesn’t always end with a commemorative prayer. It can be obscure: the fact that Connor and Mary Azarian needed to imagine her in 2004 doesn’t mean there wasn’t a Miss Bridie – fresh off the boat, with initiative – in 1856, just that no one was paying attention. The details of this story are in many ways as unremarkable as that shovel - and also as enduring. There are gardens and hat shops and rented rooms, ice-skating on a river in the park. There’s a marriage, an orchard, and a “black iron stove that warmed the children and browned the loaves of bread” – perfect for your Thanksgiving uses. And many harvests, and desolations, and generations – this isn’t nearly over when we close the book. Not everyone is blessed to be able to simply shake a Miss Bridie from their family tree, still most of us living in this country owe their fantastic good fortune to some act of daring along the way. Two hundred years ago or twenty, or someplace mysteriously buried in between. A toast: to those mysteries then! Seeing as how the whole Indian thing worked out, would it not be more fun to keep looking?