Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thanksgiving Past Overflow to the Present

America was torn asunder with the Civil War raging. On October 20, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the "Thanksgiving Day Proclamation 1864."

The Proclamation was lengthy and gave praise to "our Heavenly Father...[who has] largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while he has opened to us new sources of wealth, and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards...and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions."

For the list of reasons the president gave for thanksgiving, he did "thereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may be then, as a day of praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe."

He asked that citizens pray for "peace, harmony and unity throughout the land."

Many observed the day declared as Thanksgiving by President Lincoln. It was not the first Thanksgiving. We all recall reading about the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock in 1621 with 90 friendly Indians gathered with them to render thanks for protection during the rugged winter. The Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia in 1782 proclaimed a General Day of Thanksgiving set for November 28 for that year. President George Washington called for a time of Thanksgiving in 1789 and declared it a national holiday. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Congressional sanction in 1941 making the next to last Thursday in November the official Thanksgiving Day.

Settling on a particular Thursday and sticking with it has been a practice in the United States since the time of World War II. Thanksgiving Day is laced with the famous Macy's Parade which many watch on Television. Gathering with family and enjoying a feast of turkey, dressing and all the trimmings is a memorable part of Thanksgiving Day.

And, we would hope, giving thanks is still a vital part of Thanksgiving. When I was still the hostess for our family Thanksgiving gathering a few years ago, we had the long-standing practice of recalling and telling the gathered family one particular thing that had happened in the past year for which we were especially grateful. We gave some prior thought to what we would report, and going around the large circle of family members as they held hands and thanked God for blessings was a spiritual highlight of our year. I am grateful that my children, now the hostesses, continue this practice.

And so it has been with Thanksgiving among families on this significantly American holiday.

A story my father told me has remained with me for a long time. When he was a boy, his father and others in the Choestoe Valley raised turkeys for market. They would choose a time in late October or early November to have a "turkey drive" on the Logan Turnpike and take the turkeys to Gainesville for sale. I wish I had asked more questions about how they managed to keep the turkeys on the trail and herded them on the two or three day journey to market. I can imagine the turkeys roosting in the trees at night as the entourage camped along the way and rose early to get the turkeys ready for the march to market. In their covered wagons they would have bags of chestnuts gathered from trees in the woods before the terrible chestnut blight hit; sorghum syrup made at the Dyer mill; corn, pumpkins and dried peas and beans to trade, as well as the flock of turkeys. That week's journey to and from market and the goods traded were a way of life for my ancestors, and an item for gratitude when Thanksgiving Day came.

When I was a child, my father decided he would raise turkeys for market. It was far beyond the time of the turkey drives to market over the Logan Turnpike. We got the turkey poults in the springtime. Amazingly, trays of them were delivered by the rural mail carrier. We had a "turkey house" where we fed and nourished the little turkey poults and watched them grow. But as they grew, they were turned out "on the range" to gather their food from the hayfield.

Turkeys could often become a nuisance. Imagine being awakened early every morning, not by the usual rooster's crowing but by the "gobble, gobble, gobble" of the turkeys. The turkeys were much more aggressive than chickens. If we wore a red sweater or coat, we could expect to be chased by a turkey attracted to the bright color.

But then came the day when the truck would come for the turkeys to take them over Neal Gap (Highway 129) to market. We had to arise early to catch the turkeys and put them in large coops for transport to market. Those turkeys became the repast for city-dwellers' Thanksgiving meals. We always kept a few, one of which would make its way to our oven and our table for the Dyer Thanksgiving meal.

This Thanksgiving, may you remember and be grateful for blessings you enjoy.

We should never take them for granted. As Abraham Lincoln stated in his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation: "No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."

Our 16th president's words ring true for Thanksgiving 2006. Have a wonderful day!

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 23, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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