But no Thanks

“Dad, why can’t we celebrate Thanksgiving like everyone else?”

The father looked at his daughter for a few moments before he replied, as if he were confused by the question, or by the fact that he was hearing it from her, his own daughter. His reply may have indicated that he wanted to find out exactly what she meant before he responded. “And just what have you heard about what everyone else does?”

“So, Marilyn was watching the news yesterday and she saw kids in a classroom somewhere and they were all dressed up in uniforms, half of them grey and half blue, and they were shaking hands and sharing food and signing a piece of paper that they called a peace treaty, and playing music and everything.”

“The national news? Yeah, probably. They wore uniforms? Real uniforms?”

She shook her head. “No, I think she said it was some kind of rough shirts and hats that they made out of construction paper. So then the news talked about families getting together all over the country for big dinners, so she looked it up on the internet and they had pictures of what they called typical American families and tables full of turkey and ham and potatoes and all that, sitting down to celebrate the end of the war, like, they called it the Civil War, but she said it was pretty clear it was the War for Southern Liberation they were talking about.”

The father nodded. “And there’s the answer to your question, right there.” He shrugged his shoulders and leaned back as if to say that’s all he needed to mention.

The daughter pulled her head back and looked at him with raised eyebrows and a tightened mouth. After a pause she asked, “What answer?”

“Okay,” the father said, briefly looking off to one side as if the answer were actually on the wall behind her. Then his eyes returned to face hers. “First, you must recognize that those who lose a war and who’ve lost the ability to tell the true story of the war are not likely to celebrate what they’ve lost.” The father shook his head and leaned forward, laying his forearms on the table, hands palms down. “Let me tell you about this Thanksgiving thing. It started during the War for Southern Liberation, maybe two years before the final Treaty was signed. It was Lincoln who started it. He decided that the tide had turned after the Union victory at Gettysburg, that the war was finally going in his direction, and so he proposed a national day of celebration. He even set it for the fourth Thursday in November.”

“So he didn’t wait until they had actually won?”

“It was a political move; he thought it would unify the north and help the northern forces win. Whatever, but that’s what happened. They won and we lost. Now, you’d think Lincoln would’ve let that be enough, maybe thought better of it all, especially after John Wilkes Booth and his patriots almost assassinated him, but he didn’t. I still think that Booth could’ve been successful if he hadn’t been so clumsy about it. His failure gave Lincoln’s men a warning that kept Lincoln alive; they were more careful after that, and the backlash helped boost his popularity. By the time he finished his third term his regime had pretty much solidified their control over our states. I don’t know, maybe the assassination attempt strengthened his hatred of the south, but you’d think he would’ve learned to compromise and work with our side instead of completely turning our states upside down and gloating about our defeat with his speeches and his big annual celebration. But no, he and the new congress and the carpetbagger legislatures and the Freedmen’s Bureau strengthened their military occupation and the land reforms that destroyed our southern culture, and they pushed through their amendments to the constitution. And so now, every year, just as Lincoln wanted, they celebrate their Thanksgiving, and the northerners and even some people here in the south get together and reenact the signing of our surrender. They celebrate Lincoln as a great president, the great emancipator they call him, in public schools even. But our family and our town and our schools will never join them.”

“But isn’t it a good thing that the war was over? I mean, can’t we celebrate not fighting?”

“No, no, no.” The father’s hands raised up, palms toward his daughter, fingers moving side to side. “Not if it means we gloss over what was lost. Not if we have to accept their conditions. Not if it means we celebrate the great subjugator and his victory. Not if it means we accept the official lie that the war was just about slavery and the southern people were renegades who had to be put down. I mean, here we are in the 21st century, almost 150 years on, and we still don’t have freedom of speech; our schools still can’t tell the truth about the confederacy and the war, and we can’t fly the confederate flag or control our own elections or anything like that. I mean, you always expect that the winner in a war would take control, but we don’t have to forget. And it’s definitely not something to be celebrated, not now, not ever.”

The daughter nodded. Then her eyes narrowed a bit and she took a deep breath and tilted her head slightly to one side. “But what if we could celebrate like they do, with a big feast, but make it about something else, like … oh, I don’t know … maybe we could make it about thanking God for civilization and our prosperity and all that?”

The father smiled. “You sound like you really just want a reason for us to have a big annual family meal or something. You mean something like a traditional harvest feast?”

The daughter nodded. “Well, yeah, sort of. But instead of their thing, we could push it back to way before the war, maybe celebrate the first settlers that came to America, the ones who started with wilderness and turned it into farmlands and built cities and started everything we have today. We could make it about how God favored our ancestors and made our lives better. That way we could even make it a celebration of antebellum life and southern culture, traditional food and all that.”

The father was lost in thought for a minute or two, his eyes directed at the table in front of him. “What you mean is we could completely ignore the war, bypass it. I like that. But … if we do that and do it on the same day, the same Thursday in November, people will just assume that we’re celebrating the same thing they are.”

“No, ‘cause they have their little pageants, and the ones that we put on in our schools and churches, and wherever else, won’t be anything like what they have. We won’t have blues and greys and fake treaties. We could have the kinds of costumes they use in over in Williamsburg, the colonial ones. Instead of pictures of Lincoln we could have Pocahontas and John Smith, I mean, everybody knows that story, don’t they? It could be about the peace between the settlers and the Indians. We’ll have a completely different pageant, and if you’re right about people around here, we can get the TV stations and newspapers to cover it without mentioning anybody else or anybody else’s Thanksgiving. It would be ours.”

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