I don’t know about you, but I found it fulfilling back in first grade when Thanksgiving approached and I got to spread my hand flat on a piece of construction paper and trace around it to make the tail of a turkey.
Maybe you were one of those kids who started school with fully developed small-motor skills. Good for you. Some of us, and I mean me, took a little longer to develop. The teacher grimaced (she tried to hide it, but I could see) everytime I picked up the blunt-end scissors, grabbed a bottle of that sticky, uncontrollable grade-school glue or clumsily gripped a lead pencil to draw a dog or pony or pilgrim holding a deadly blunderbuss. My dogs and ponies looked the same, the blunderbuss was no more threatening than a line on a piece of paper, the glue stuck my fingers together and the scissors left torn, jagged edges, edges, around what ever figure I had been trying to create.
The simple act of placing my left hand flat on the construction paper, fingers and thumbs spread wide, and tracing around that hand and those fingers might have been all that kept me in school that first year. When I finished tracing and lifted my hand from the paper, my figure looked almost exactly like those of all the other kids in the class. None of them looked like turkey feathers. They all looked like we had traced around our hands. But having my project turn out the same as the other kids was something to be thankful for, indeed.
Nobody had given a thought to the Native Americans’ side of the Thanksgiving story back when I started school in 1950. We only knew about the big feast, so we were all about pilgrims. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that it really does matter who’s writing the history. When our class got instructions to make a pilgrim’s hat then we attacked the assignment with relish.
It was simplenough. Cut a big circle of black construction paper and cut a little smaller circle out of the middle. That made the brim. Take a rectangle of glack construction paper curl it into a cone and tape it together. Stick one end in the brim and tape it securely and you have a hat. The brim of mine drooped, the tape on the crown came loose and I didn’t even attempt to make a hat band with a buckle like the other kids did. My pitiful attempt didn’t bother me as much as it should have. I was resigned to it. And I was thankful it didn’t take long. See? If a person really looks, he can be thankful for the little things.
Thanksgiving, in spite of some odd stuff we grew up believing, is a grand holiday. It’s being rushed out of existence in stores and online by Christmas. Nancy and I were in a big store three weeks ago looking for a couple of Thanksgiving knick-knacks. The employees told us that stuff was put away “quite a while ago.” That’s sad, because it wouldn’t hurt anyone to pause once a year and reflect on the good things in life.
I sometimes write in a good-natured way about my mother’s inability to put a nicely cooked turkey on the table for Thanksgiving. One year the bird spurted blood when our dad sliced into it. Another year the turkey was almost too dry to swallow. The mashed potatoes were often soupy. The gravy had more lumps than a club boxer’s face. The cranberries? Who knew? We tried to eat a tiny bit of them without tasting anything.
You know what, though? At the end of the main meal, my mother served pie, and I’ve never met anyone who could match her for baking a pie. She was a perfectionist. Sometimes — often — she dumped down the drain a pie that didn’t measure up to her standards. But when she put one on the table, it was something to celebrate.
Besides, she told me my cut-out construction-paper hand and fingers looked just like a turkey’s tail feathers. How can a kid not be grateful for something like that?