THIS PILGRIM’S PROGRESS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Women serving even before football on TV

Women serving men even before football was on TV

I know.  Thanksgiving is over.  Our collective minds have turned to “The Holidays”, which means most of you are buying presents, trimming trees or dipping into the egg nog.  After looking at the crowds on Black Friday apparently a lot of people were “dipping”.  For many of you the only remnant of Thanksgiving you want to think about is that last slice of pumpkin pie you’re hoping no one remembers is still in the fridge so you can sneak-eat it at 3 a.m.  But I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Thanksgiving lately – specifically the Pilgrims – so I am dragging out the holiday for one more week.  The reason:  I am doing extensive research on our Pilgrim ancestors in my quest to join the Mayflower SocietyWhy would I want to join the Mayflower Society?  Well, first, because I love history and the society’s chief aim is to preserve our early heritage.  But more importantly, recent world events have me thinking about what it means to be an American.  How did we start?  What were our founding beliefs and principles?  And just who were these people who left hearth and home to board a rickety ship and sail off to an unknown land?  My previous research has unearthed that we are related to five of the families that took that courageous step and were passengers on the Mayflower.  The 102 passengers on the ship were almost evenly divided between the “saints” and the “strangers”.  The saints were religious dissenters who left England for Holland and eventually America.  The strangers were merchants, tradesmen or indentured servants.  There were also a few “dodgy” sorts who were fleeing the law.  Amazingly, our ancestors were all saints.  I have to say I was a little disappointed to learn that – I was hoping to have a good scoundrel in our background to make things a bit more interesting.

More than a 3 hour cruise

The Mayflower

The Mayflower Society wants me to prove our lineage, which I suppose is a reasonable request.  There are over 30,000,000 possible descendants world-wide but only 27,000 have joined the group.  I suspect that’s because they require actual documentation, not just some letter from old Aunt Sally that’s been handed down through the years.  One has to submit marriage licenses, birth certificates and/or death notices.  Heretofore (meaning before the internet) obtaining all of those documents was an almost impossible task.  Trust me, it’s still a pain to document and verify everything but as the “family historian” I figure it’s my job.  Plus, it turns out that if a relative has joined the Society then any direct relatives can join without having to prove much more than you’ve fought over a drumstick at Thanksgiving or you’ve both tolerated Drunk Uncle at Christmas.  So I’m hopeful that if I go through the process of “showing them our stinkin’ badges” that some future member of our family will be more willing to take up the mantle of family historian.  Luckily in 2011 I joined Ancestry.com and used their documentation to write our family history dating back to the Pilgrims.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that I have kept my membership in Ancestry since then in anticipation of writing our family’s European history.  But one thing or another has kept me from doing the research – mostly due to my borderline A.D.D and my inability to stare at a computer screen for hours.  As a result, I have paid those nice people at Ancestry $960 in the past several years for … nothing.    Which I think is their business model – rope in people with good intentions and lazy attitudes and the bottom line looks pretty good.

William Brewster - not voted Class Clown

William Brewster – not voted Class Clown

But back to the task at hand (you can see how I get distracted)… in doing the research in 2011 I found that my maternal great-grandmother’s family has formed an elaborate organization.  Genealogy, it seems, has become the second most popular hobby in the world, right after gardening.  That’s right – the study of dead people is more popular than golf or stamp collecting.  As it turns out, many families have their own organizations and websites and it was through my great-grandmother’s family website that I first learned of our Pilgrim connections.  I’m hoping that a lot of the genealogy geeks in that organization have already joined the Mayflower Society so that all I’ll have to prove is my direct lineage from her.  Heck, I’ve got pictures of her with my mother so that should count for something.  Hopefully there isn’t any sort of “blackballing” or personality test required.  Our mom said that her grandmother, although civic-minded and philanthropic, was something of a pistol.  And not in a good way – she was domineering, opinionated and humorless.  It may run in the family.  One of our Pilgrim ancestors was William Brewster, who was the spiritual leader on the Mayflower, and was said to have many of those same traits.  On the other hand, Sarah Palin is also descended from Brewster, so maybe he did have a sense of humor after all.

In any event, I have submitted my application to the Mayflower Society and they tell me it will take 3-6 weeks to see if I’m “qualified” to join.  There’s a small part of me that hopes they send a response informing me that our ancestors were actually horse thieves and had no part in the Mayflower.  Then I can take up gardening and finally cancel that subscription to Ancestry.com.

The Holiday ‘Season’ Schedule

by Bob Sparrow

onions2

Creamed Onions – YUCK!

When I was growing up, back when the earth was still cooling, there was no such thing as a ‘Holiday Season’ – there was Christmas. Thanksgiving was when Jack, Suz and I, had to get ‘slicked up’ and go to our aunt and uncle’s house and eat creamed onions and turkey that was cut so thin that it only had one side. New Year’s was a non-event that meant Christmas vacation was nearly over and we’d soon be headed back to school.

Things have changed a bit since then; with the coming of television, the ‘Christmas Season’ was created and subsequently commercialized.  More recently, with the advent of political correctness, the ‘Holiday Season’ was born, to make sure we weren’t excluding anyone from the season’s buying bonanza.

holiday2

Unoffensive holiday symbols

  The way I see it, it’s a five-game ‘season’ where first, everyone gets on their game uniform for the ‘kick off’ at Halloween, followed by Veteran’s Day (which apparently is a non-league game), then into the meat of the schedule with Thanksgiving and Christmas and concluding with the ‘finals’ on New Year’s Eve.

So let’s look at the ‘season’, game-by-game.

mask2

Cheery Halloween mask

Halloween

How it started: It was originally an ancient Celtic religious celebration where they would bless and convert Pagans.

What happened? We took the religion out of it and now we just try to scare the bejesus out of kids with ugly masks and scary movies, while we bless and convert non-diabetics to diabetics with a sugar over-load. The American Dental Association also thanks you!

Veteran’s Day

vets

AMEN!

How it started: In 1919 Armistice Day was created marking the end of World War I on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. In 1938 Armistice Day was declared a legal holiday and in 1945 it was changed to Veteran’s Day to recognize and celebrate all veterans.

What happened? Years ago Veteran’s Day was just a scrimmage, but fortunately, it’s become a little more celebrated in recent years, possibly due to the numerous conflicts we’ve put our brave men and women in armed forces through, but it’s still no Halloween! Personally, I’d eliminate Halloween and put greater emphasis on this holiday by having kids dress up like veterans and seek out service families and veterans to ask if they can help them in any way. Schools could ask their students to write a letter to someone in the armed forces to thank them for their service, but don’t count on it replacing the sanctity of Halloween anytime soon.

Thanksgiving

Tday

“Sorry about taking your land”

How it started: The Pilgrims wanted to celebrate a bumper crop year as well as show their benevolence toward the Native Americans, specifically the Wampanoag tribe, by inviting them to a feast and tossing them a drumstick after they vanquished them and took their land. OK, maybe they didn’t just take it; they did give them $24 worth of beads and trinkets for Manhattan. Subsequently the Wampanoag tribe suffered an epidemic, thought to be smallpox brought over by the English, which helped them establish their settlements. Years later, the King Philip’s War resulted in the deaths of 40 percent of the tribe. Most of the male survivors were sold into slavery in the West Indies, while many women and children were enslaved in New England.

What happened? Well, wouldn’t you continue to celebrate such a joyous occasion? We do, with a feast of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and pies of various fruits and nuts on Thursday and when the ladies realized that the men were spending the rest of the weekend watching football, they said, “Ladies let’s go shopping!” and thus ‘Black Friday’ was created. But even with its calorie-busting meals, football overload and guerilla combat shopping, Thanksgiving still has the redeeming quality of bringing families together – and that’s a good thing!

Christmas

Xmas

Remember Christmas?

How it started: The first recorded date of Christmas was in 336 AD (No, I wasn’t there!); a few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the December 25th.  Although with shepherds in their fields at the time of the birth, it probably wasn’t in the winter at all.

What happened? Because this is the big cash cow of the season, the decorations and carols start in late October and continues through New Year’s Eve and beyond; it’s the ‘Big Game’. Yes, it’s been commercialized almost beyond recognition, but if you work at it, you can still find or better yet, create the ‘spirit of Christmas’, by helping those less fortunate or just experiencing a young child’s unbridled enthusiasm when they see that Santa hasn’t forgotten them. So work at finding the ‘spirit’ this year, as Vince Lombardi once said, “Giving isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!”  OK, maybe I made that up.

vernal

When do you want the new year to start?


New Year’s Eve

How it started: The year had to end sometime!

What happened? When the year really ends is a long story involving various calendars, but suffice it to say that historically a bunch of politicians and church folks have moved the start of the year around since the beginning of time, mostly just to suit their purposes. So don’t get too fixated on December 31st as the end of the year, it was originally the vernal equinox (around the end of March) and it could go back there if it will make someone some money or get someone elected.  No matter what the date, it’s always the time of year when we lie to ourselves about improving our lives ‘next year’ with some unrealistic resolutions.

This Thursday will mark the halfway point in the season, so relax and enjoy the ‘halftime show’ – it’s usually at the ‘kid’s table’.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Turkeys, Indians and the ‘4 Fs’

by Bob Sparrow

2 turkeys

Tom & Giblets

As followers of the blog know, Suzanne and I alternate writing each week, and for the previous two years, Thanksgiving has fallen on her week, which is a good thing, because she’s so good at writing appropriate holiday blogs.  I, on the other hand, tend to see things through lenses that are just a little warped. So rather than focusing on the ‘Three Fs’ – Family, Food and Football, like I should be, I’m wondering about things like if the turkeys really know how much their lives are in jeopardy this time of year.  I know turkeys aren’t real deep thinkers, after all they’re the birds that go outside during a rainstorm, look up, open their mouths and drown, and though they won’t be invited to a Mensa meetings anytime soon, even they must wonder why they’re being fattened up this time of year and why their friends keep disappearing. “Say, whatever happened to that nice couple, Tom & Giblets?”

I’ve also been thinking about the first Thanksgiving. It was in 1621 (No, I wasn’t in attendance). Due to a record harvest, the pilgrims invited the local Indians for a feast. The pilgrims were waiting for a reciprocal invitation the following year, but none was forthcoming. Why? We’re not exactly sure, but if we examine the recorded description of that first repast we can find some clues as to why the Indians were not that excited about inviting the pilgrims back to their place for dinner.

1st T

“No, you can’t sit at the table, but you can have seconds on the pie.”

First, the Pilgrims and the Indians didn’t speak the same language, so there wasn’t much ‘small talk’ going on between them at the dinner table, like, “Don’t you think the goat tastes a little gamey?” or “Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?” Secondly, the Indians were in the habit of bathing regularly; conversely the English pilgrims took a bath once a month whether they needed one or not. So no matter how good the roasted wart hog might have smelled, the odor from the pilgrims hung over the festivities.  A third factor may have been that the first invitation probably didn’t indicate a dress code; the English pilgrims, who were accustomed to dressing formally for dinner,most likely wore hats, waist coats, ruffle ties and buckle shoes and were probably aghast when their native American guests arrived barefoot and in loin cloths.

$24

“I think I’m getting screwed here, but we’ll give you all these beads for Manhattan.”

Whatever the reason for the hiatus between feasts, it is assumed that during that first dinner there was some conversation amongst each group separately regarding the disposition of Manhattan, as the famous sale of that island took place just five years after that first Thanksgiving. I can see the pilgrims huddling together over by the pie tray, trying to see if they could gather enough beads and trinkets to equal $24, which is what they wanted to offer to purchase Manhattan. On the other side of the table, the Indians were having a very different conversation that may have ended with something like, “White man is trying to ply us with ‘fire water’ so they can take advantage of us, but I don’t think we even own Manhattan, so if they’re willing to give us $24 for it, I say we take it and run.”

I have some other random Thanksgiving thoughts, but with six in-law houseguests coming in this week, perhaps I better focus on the ‘Three Fs’, make that the ‘Four Fs’, I’m adding Firewater.

Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with all the ‘Fs’ you can stand.

 

The Mutation of Thanksgiving

by Bob Sparrow

1st Thanksgiving      The first Thanksgiving took place in 1621, a feast shared between the Pilgrims and the Indians. They ate duck and venison and played games together.  The cause of the celebration was the Pilgrims first harvest in their new land (the Indian’s old land), but unlike those who followed, rather than kill, capture or constrain the Indians, they invited them to dinner.  The invitation was probably a bit vague regarding dress, as the Pilgrims wore their formal black garments, white collars and funny hats while the Indians dressed a bit more casually; fortunately the ‘No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service’ admonition hadn’t been created yet.  Thanksgiving remained pretty much the same for several hundred years except for the fact that Indians came to be regarded as second-class citizen and relegated to reservations . . . not for dinner.

     Thanksgivings for our generation meant getting together with family and having turkey, which had thankfully replaced theNR duck and venison.   In the early 1950s another American tradition was added to this day of feasting and thanking – football.  Actually, football was added back in 1934 when the first game between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears was played on Thanksgiving Day, but that traditional game didn’t come into our living rooms until the early 1950s when television sets became a fixture in most homes.  From then on until recently, most Thanksgivings were about Family, Food and Football.

     Then another ‘F’ word started pushing itself into our Thanksgiving holiday psyche . . . Finance. Today, news at Thanksgiving hardly ever includes stories about how people celebrated or what we are thankful for, but rather how this year’s ‘Black Friday’ revenue will stack up against previous year’s – consumer spending-wise.  Before I give you the actual numbers for this year, you have to understand that ‘Black Friday’ statistics actually include retail sales from the Friday after Thanksgiving through the following Sunday.  No, wait a minute, recently that’s been amended to include Thanksgiving Day as well, as many retailers are telling their employees not to be so thankful and spend time with family, but rather to get into work – we’re open!

 black friday    This year shoppers spent an estimated $57.4 billion during the four-day ‘knock-your-neighbor-down-to-get-to-that-last-iPad’ event.  Sounds like a lot of money, but it was actually down 2.9% from last year.  Worse yet, God forbid, there was a 4% drop in that all important ‘spending-per-shopper’ category.

     In more ‘F’ news, Cyber Monday (another commercially aggrandized day to hype sales via the Internet) sales amounted to $2.29 billion – just for the day; that’s up 108% from last year.  And between 18-20% of that were purchases over a mobile device – Christmas shopping from your phone!  So while we still eat turkey and watch football, the media bombards us with Black Friday and Cyber Monday predictions and encourages us to spend, spend, spend.

     OK, this is turning into a rant; sorry, but these numbers tell me that we are getting further and further away from person-to-person contact.  I get it that this is probably just ‘old people talk’, but sometimes with age, come wisdom.  OK, I’m still waiting, but that’s another story.  I just listened to the lyrics of that classic Christmas carol, ‘Silver Bells:

           Children laughing, People passing, Meeting smile after smile

                                             and

          As the shoppers rush home with their treasures

     As numbers for Cyber Monday continue to grow, as I’m certain they will, it puts us on a slippery slope that ultimately leadscyber to no longer hearing ‘children laughing’ – how could you with your phone in your ear constantly. No longer will there be ‘people passing’ – unless it’s gas as they sit on their computers shopping all day. And you’ll no longer be ‘meeting smile after smile’ – there will be no one to smile for, unless you are taking a ‘Selfie’ picture to pass along to your friends on Facebook who couldn’t care less.  And as far as ‘shoppers rushing home with their treasures’ go, Amazon will take care of that, it’s got plans in the works to drop-ship your gift via drone, so they can eliminate the deliveryman altogether.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love my cell phone; wouldn’t leave home without it, but I love family, food and football more; so before this new cyber world completely takes over, maybe we need to declare this year’s next family gathering a ‘Cell Free Zone’ – we won’t have many opportunities left, as I’m sure the next generation of mobile devices will be imbedded in our bodies somewhere.  I think I have a suggestion as to exactly where they should put it.

     But I could be wrong.

happy face

WALKING IT OFF

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

As my brother so accurately wrote last year, Thanksgiving is our family’s favorite holiday.  After all, we are related to five of the 17 families that came over on the Mayflower.  After I discovered this bit of history I deluded myself into thinking that our DNA is hard-wired to love the holiday commemorating them.  But the cold, hard truth is that we love this holiday because we love to eat.

We are all big eaters in our family.  There is never an “old maid” left on the  hors d’oeuvre tray and “thirds” are for the light eaters.  We are the family that inspired expandable waistbands.  We do have standards – we do not eat jellied cranberry sauce and no one belches at the table.  So far.

And yet we are not so slovenly that we have no self-respect.  No sir, we are all pretty good about exercise and trying to stay in shape.  For years I wore a pedometer to ensure that I walked 10,000 steps every day.  So in anticipation of Thursday’s annual bacchanal, I went to walk.about.com which has a handy little feature that lets you check all the food you’ll eat on Thanksgiving and then covert it to calories.  I thought that could be an interesting exercise, forgetting that when it comes to food, ignorance is bliss.

A glass of wine?  Check.  A celery stalk stuffed with bleu cheese?  Why not?  Okay, I’ll opt for one cracker with a slice of Stilton.  How much could that add?  On I went, from the turkey to the mashed potatoes to the requisite green bean casserole .  My total calorie count? 3,365!!!!

Then the intrusive, vindictive, people-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands snoops at walk.about.com felt the need to let me know with laser-like precision exactly how many miles and steps it would take me to burn off all those calories.  Turns out I need to walk 34 miles or 67,300 steps to wear off my dinner.  From a scheduling standpoint,  I need to cram 6 1/2 days of walking into Thursday.  If I start walking in downtown San Francisco I couldn’t stop until I reached Santa Clara. Fortunately Stanford Medical Center is on the way – perhaps I could drop in for a gastric bypass.

But here’s the worst part, I lied when I took the test.  One cracker with cheese?  I so frequently hog the snack table that my family nickname is “Hoover lips”.  I consider mashed potatoes to be health food and, frankly, I think it insulting to the cook if I pass on all the pies and whipped cream.  Even though the “cook” is Costco.  My real calorie count is probably north of  6,000.

So when everyone gathers on Thanksgiving to eat, watch football and talk about the nation’s pending financial crisis, I will sadly find no room for compromise.  Despite the obvious risks and danger, I will be jumping off the caloric cliff.

PILGRIM’S PROGRESS?

Some thoughts on Thanksgiving by Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I have spent much of my time the past few months writing the history of our family.  My research has taken me to places that I never expected to go. For example, the Napa State Hospital for the Insane where our great-grandfather was housed in 1900.  But that aside, most of our relatives were fine, upstanding people. In fact, a few weeks ago I discovered that we are related to 5 of the seventeen families that came over on the Mayflower. 

I’ve been reading a lot about our relatives, the Pilgrims, and have been reminded of facts I’m sure I learned in school but had long forgotten.  The journey was 66 days long and quite perilous during the latter half of it.  When they landed in Plymouth in November of 1620 there was no reprieve from the cramped confines of the ship.  Most of the passengers had to live on board while the first housing structures were built. The quarters were small to begin with and were not enhanced by two months at sea with no bathing or washing of clothes.  In fact, one of the first things the men did when they landed was to cut down juniper trees to bring on board in an attempt to improve the odor.  Those close quarters and the brutal New England winters caused much illness and disease.  Half of the original passengers died that first winter.  When spring arrived, the remaining crew members eagerly set sail and returned to England.  But the Pilgrims stayed on in Plymouth and continued to build their village.  By the next year, in November of 1621, they celebrated their first bountiful harvest with the native population and that meal has come to symbolize Thanksgiving.

So armed with all of this new knowledge I decided to really celebrate Thanksgiving this year.  My first stop was Target where I went in search of some kitschy decorations – a wreath, a turkey candle, maybe even a Pilgrim hat.  No such luck.  Thanksgiving was relegated to an end post on one aisle.  I was lucky to find an accordion turkey and a paper tablecloth.  Apparently that is the extent to which Target wishes to celebrate the day.  It was the same scenario in store after store.  Somehow we have turned into a society that goes directly from Halloween (a money-making holiday) to Christmas (another money-making holiday).

I think the people who struggled so greatly to establish the first colony in this country deserve a bit more respect.  Would it really be so bad if we focused a bit more on gratitude and a little less on greed?  We could start with Congress and then move on to the Target merchandising department.

Happy Thanksgiving!