I remember a coloring book page from gradeschool. Newly-arrived Europeans sat at a picnic table with Native Americans seated beside them, with ladies from both ethnic groups bringing freshly harvested items to the table — corn on the cob, potatoes, and other foods that have become staples in the Thanksgiving tradition. A plump, golden roasted turkey waited patiently on a plate to be carved. A cornucopia sat at one end of the table, spilling more vegetables, presumably freshly picked from local plots.
From my 64-color Crayola Crayon set (sharpener built into the back!), I carefully selected warm, earthy colors and brought the scene to life. Staying mostly within the lines, I got fuzzy feelings of cooperation and human kindness, oblivious to the near genocide that followed.
When my family gathers, an adult might crack the occasional cynical joke regarding the holiday’s origins, but it never comes up in the conversation. Discussion of Europeans or Native Americans would result in a fight with ourselves, because our flesh and blood are comprised of both. For the most part we enjoy food crafted by our mixed-heritage hands, remember stories from our childhoods, and make new memories with our own children.
Despite that my generation already met 40 and waved goodbye to it several years ago, we still go outside to play while the older generation stays inside to talk. We even let the 20-something couple join the fun.
Sometimes we stroll through the hilly pasture to see the ramshackle forts the children built near the creek. In a sporadic tradition, we pile into a few vehicles and drive a couple of miles, then make the short hike to a breathtaking waterfall.
Through it all, we enjoy the outdoors, the indoors, the food, and the family — kind of like Native Americans were doing when they saw the first Europeans step off the ships.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to have someone invade the area and, at their most generous, tell us we had the choice to either adopt their culture and their religion or leave. Feeling less forgiving, they would indiscriminately enslave and kill us.
So, while I cannot regard Thanksgiving like a Pollyanna picking the perfect hue for a coloring book page, I am glad that we have each other and still enjoy and appreciate the land as our ancestors did. I can only hope that it isn’t too optimistic to trust we can learn from history rather than repeating it.