Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Schenectady County Thanksgiving Tale

"Thanksgiving An Inspiration Peculiar to the Nation." A festive meal, time with family and friends, and even football are featured in this drawing. Image from Library of Congress. 

"Why should we have Thanksgiving
For just one little day?
Should we not always be thankful?
Should we not always pray?
While the leaves are crimson and glowing,
While the fall mists are in the air,
While your heart is with gladness o'erflowing
Don't you breathe up a little prayer
To the Heavenly Father who made you
And this earth so broad and fair?

Thanksgiving really comes every day:
When you look at the sky and trees:
When you look at the silvery river
And feel the Autumn breeze.
When you feel a queer little ache
In your soul for the very joy of living,
Reach out your hand for the hand of God,
And remember -- That is Thanksgiving!"

- Poem entitled "Thanksgiving," written by Bertha R. Wolcott, Schenectady High School student, from SHUCIS literary magazine, November 1922.

Tomorrow, people all around Schenectady County will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. The Thanksgiving holiday is traced to the 1621 harvest feast at the Plymouth Plantation. Autumn and early winter celebrations continued in subsequent years as religious and civil traditions. Thanksgiving Day became an official federal holiday in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

Larry Hart, a Schenectady Gazette reporter and long-time Schenectady city and county historian, remembered in his "Tales of Old Dorp" newspaper column one Thanksgiving he experienced as a boy growing up, when he and his family lived in Carman during the Great Depression. This wonderful Thanksgiving story is worth sharing in its entirety:

"It was 1933, when the Depression was at its lowest depths. Yet, that holiday was far from being somber of even ordinary.

"Like so many breadwinners at the time, Dad wasn't having the best of luck in finding work that might supplement his meager trucking business. At school the past week, all of us kids had been drawing and coloring pictures of the strutting turkey as is the custom yet today. There were not a few of us, however, who knew deep down that our dinner table would not be favored this year at least with the impressive sight of a tom turkey on a platter, roasted to a steaming brown and ready for carving.

"Prices were low enough in 1933. The trouble was that few families in our circle bought anything at the stores which might be considered 'extras' -- such as a turkey, or a second radio set, or even a second newspaper. Now that we look back on those times, the Great Depression must have been rougher on the adults who had to worry about money problems than [on] the youngsters, who were quite content to enjoy everything that life had to offer.

"It so happened that in 1933 our Boy Scout Troop 32 had raised extra money through various projects which was to be used for Thanksgiving baskets for the absolute needy of the Carman neighborhood. We don't recall, probably were never told, how the names were received but that didn't matter. All we can remember is the great feeling of being a part of some special mission that Tuesday or Wednesday night before the big holiday, when we were driven around parts of Carman by our Dads to deliver those baskets. They were bulging with fruits and nuts, canned goods, and -- biggest of all -- a dressed turkey. The incredulous looks on the faces of those who answered the door that night, looks which softened to tearful, heartwarming smiles as they understood our visit, are indelible in our memories.

"Needless to say, the chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes, turnip, and homemade apple pie which Ma served on that Thanksgiving, 1933, was a repast especially enjoyable to us. A ham sandwich would have done just as well."

We at the Schenectady County Historical Society wish everyone in our local community -- and beyond -- a happy Thanksgiving!

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