Dalton Delan | The Unspin Room: Giving thanks, looking back and taking stock
The first harvest feast in Plymouth, which morphed more than a century-and-a-half later into our modern Thanksgiving holiday, took place exactly 400 years ago in 1621. Of 102 pilgrims who had come over on the Mayflower, only 53 survived to celebrate that feast, thanks to the generosity of spirit and sustenance of the Wampanoag tribe, who outnumbered the colonists nearly two to one. There is no record that turkeys met their maker at that feast. One thing we know is that a lot of people died to help forge our nation. Their suffering, and the interdependence with the Native Americans, define the paradox of America, a Rubik’s Cube of brotherhood and cutthroat acts, religious zealotry and secular governance, equality for some and slavery for many, and an unquenchable hope that a better world might come to be.
We who inhabit the 21st century are once again in a perilous place, with a country divided in so many ways: flood in the East and fire and draught in the West, masks in the North and anti-mask mandates in the South, Teslas and Priuses on the coasts and Silverados and Rams in the heartland, remote telehealth and social media body-shaming, blue states and red. Lest we descend into the opening lines of “A Tale of Two Cities,” we pull ourselves back despite schisms akin to uncivil war. Jan. 6 was the apotheosis of our culture clash. It is all apples and oranges and nary a fruit punch from the bunch. I scorn therefore I am. We disagree to agree.
Amidst this tempest in a TV pot the eternal optimist in me, despite no love of turkeys living or dead, cannot fail to seize this invitation to give thanks where it is due, and to pull a few tales as befits a misspent youth spent devouring Mad magazine and the lyrical Tom Lehrer. This weekend is a great opportunity for each of us to compose our list of thanks. The last year has been a time capsule anyway, as we insects in the greater scheme of things have been frozen in amber waiting out a herd immunity that recedes before us like an oasis shimmering in the sand.
I give thanks for the long life of my wild and crazy mother, the oldest resident of her nursing home as she neared the century mark last month, who finally slipped the character-robbing bonds of pandemic isolation and fled her corporal self. We were hoping to get her on the centenary Smucker’s Jar on “The Today Show,” but no matter. Willard Scott, too, is gone. I look forward to the wreaths that adorn the 639 acres of Arlington National Cemetery in the holiday season, where my dad awaits the year it will take, in Army time, to inter the ashes of what once was my mom and wreck his quietude for good. Hey, dad, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Some readers may relate to my paradoxical inspiration from the horrors of Zoom and LinkedIn that have caused me to reconnect with long-lost colleagues, relatives and friends, to wonder how the years have slipped away along with our youth, and to recall together the many pilgrims of our own colonies who have perished like so many on the Mayflower, all too often prematurely. Many are the nights I hear the clock toll twice and thrice, and toss and turn and wallow and wonder at the ungraspable nature of being and non-being. In dreams, my father and mother, friends and colleagues live again, as I find myself back in our old apartment, office or city, a shadowland beyond the narrow throw of sleep’s street lamps. I am searching and lost. Despite the circling for home, I wake up glad to see the dearly departed roll away the stone.
I am thankful I am still given this small space to converse with you, to seek together chords of recognition, of humor and concern, learnings and moments half-remembered. I know at times the hummingbirds of memory elude my grasp. For those occasions when you scratch your head as I lose you in the thicket of my thought, I apologize. Sometimes I punch below the weight of wisdom I cannot attain, and I thank you for giving me another chance the next time to try to reach you or try your patience. Such is the lot of the lonely typist who still remembers the clicking of the keys on his Smith Corona, banished to the basement along with a lifetime of LPs, VHS and moldering paperbacks. Try as I may, I am a creature of the 20th century, when physical media demanded, and at times deserved, paper money.
So thank you, reader, you who scan these words. The Eagle still flies. In the Berkshires, and the virtual hills beyond, our conversation continues.