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Life Roger Kimball

The joy of being right at Thanksgiving

I go to some trouble to make sure that Thanksgiving chez Kimball is an occasion that encourages the feeling of gratitude

November 20, 2018

11:13 AM

20 November 2018

11:13 AM

Aristotle, in one of his more jocular moods, described man as the ‘animal who has reason.’ What makes this funny, of course, is that everyone knows that, if it is leading characteristics you are interested in, man is much better described as the the ungrateful animal than the rational animal.

The Pilgrim founders of this country were not exactly a jolly lot, but they recognized this fact, which is why, having endured a strenuous first winter in 1620-1621, they sat down in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts with their Wampanoag Indian pals in the late summer of 1621 and gorged themselves for three days running in an orgy of surprised thanksgiving at having made it that far in the New World.

As history proceeded, Americans have had more and more to be thankful for, something of which its presidents were quick to remind them. George Washington got the ball rolling in 1789 when he proclaimed the first nationwide (it wasn’t all that wide back then) Thanksgiving celebration on November 26 as ‘a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.’

Abraham Lincoln got into the act in 1863 by proclaiming the last Thursday of November as a national day of thanksgiving, a celebration that was not fully realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s. In 1939, Franklin Delano Roosevelt intervened and change the date to the second to last Thursday of November, where it has remained ever since, much to the delight of fans of football and those eager to promote unimpeded family time together over the hearth and encompassing the benisons of the fermented grape and/or grain.

I approve of and enjoy Thanksgiving. Living in New England, I can more or less count on chilly temperatures which reinforce the gemütlich feeling of pottering about indoors, poking the fire, popping the corks, and basting the turkey along with a few friends of the same kidney. Somewhere in a distant corner of our neighborhood, eager denizens amuse themselves tossing a brown ovoid projectile back and forth until one or another of them gets hold of the object and endeavors to transverse the playing-field unmolested. Some enjoy that sort of thing.

I now go to some trouble to make sure that Thanksgiving chez Kimball is an occasion that encourages the feeling of gratitude. I do this partly because I recognize how rarely most of us (and I include myself in that ‘most’) exercise that emotion, partly because the recollection of tight-lipped sniping about politics at holiday occasions remains vividly impressed upon my memory. The anxious tip-toeing among the minefield of explosive subjects is even worse than the occasional sallies into lip-curling frankness.

The guest list, I’ve found, is key. Neglect that and you’re sunk. But it’s one thing to control the guest list in your own house. It’s something else in foreign climes.

Christmas 2016 was a fraught time. We had left the home front and traveled into the no-man’s-land of siblings-in-law. About such things, I generally follow the policy set down by St Paul in Ephesians: nec nominetur in vobis.

I will, however, mention one particular, since it illustrates an interesting and not sufficiently remarked upon psychological phenomenon. I mean the unpleasant familial exchange that later events translate into a pleasing memory. In this instance, I had made what I thought was an innocuous comment about the United States economy and how it seemed to me to be looking up, to wit, 3 or even 4 percent growth looked likely in a year or so.

This was met by an eruption of withering scorn and a short lecture about how such rates of growth were 1) impossible in a mature economy such as existed in the Untied States and 2) certainly impossible under the bumbling and immoral leadership of a mountebank like Donald Trump (I paraphrase). I hastily retreated to the Bertie Wooster riposte (a favorite on such occasions) and came back with a snappy ‘Er, ah,’ or possibly ‘Ah, er,’ while fiddling with my empty (it always seemed to be empty) wine glass.

I have not had occasion to exchange pleasantries with my interlocutor since then (I have a diligent streak about some things) but I have taken note that the US economy is on fire, in a decidedly non-Californian sense. Unemployment is at record lows, consumer confidence and the market and record highs. Manufacturing is flooding back into the United States, wages are on the upswing, and that economic growth rate that had been such a bone of contention has been consistently about 3 percent, touching 4.1 or 4.2 percent a couple of quarters. I think about that, and remember, too, how studious a reader of the daily newspapers my critic is. She cannot have escaped this news, though doubtless she has an unflattering explanation — or at least a rationalization — for why the impossible suddenly became actual. It pleases me to contemplate this fact and I realize, here on the eve of another Thanksgiving, that I have many, many blessings for which I should be thankful.


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