My Thanksgiving this year
My grandmother told me stories of the Depression, when she was a young widow with two small children. One day she’d stretched things as far as she could and was looking at a few slices of bread and some flour to make water-gravy, and that was what her babies would have for breakfast in the morning. So she got down on her knees and prayed to God, because she had no other recourse. There was no money left and nowhere to turn. The next afternoon as she sat in her empty kitchen, she spotted her cousin coming up the walk. He’d walked fifty miles into town from the family farm, carrying a ham and a sack of vegetables.
We often spoke of the sheer terror of that night, the hopelessness and despair. And how, while we’d had recessions and stagflations and the like since then, she didn’t think we’d ever have another Depression, for the simple reason that people have recourse. Yeah, it means we run up debt, which was poison back in the thirties, but with those instant pre-approved mini-loans called credit cards, it also means that many people can keep paying rent, utility bills, and can feed and clothe their children long past the time of “no recourse”. We can hang on a lot longer to that hope that we can all get through it somehow.
Years ago I read a book about a young wife whose husband’s job moved them to the Soviet Union. I’m ashamed that I cannot remember either the title or the author, but one scene forever remained in my mind. Her small daughter needed galoshes, so she went to the only department store in Moscow, GUM, and stood in line to explain what she wanted. The man behind the counter wrote down the size she needed (all galoshes came in one color) on a slip of paper and pointed her to the correct line to stand in, to find out if there were any galoshes that week. When she got to the counter, the clerk glanced at the slip of paper, went back into the massive stacks and shelves and came back with a pair of galoshes. In halting Russian, the young wife convinced the woman that the size was closer to her husband’s than her child’s. Back into the stacks, and finally the woman came up with a pair that were at least in the ballpark. But the wife was not allowed to take them with her. She was given yet another slip of paper to stand in yet another line, where another clerk wrote up a sales slip and she paid for the galoshes with stacks of rubles. Then she was permitted to stand in a fourth line with her stamped sales slip to claim the galoshes.
Eight hours after entering the store, the young wife exited the front doors and “sat on the curb and cried for Macy’s and my Mastercard”.
This Thanksgiving I gave thanks that while my children and grandchildren are not wealthy, they are healthy and wise. I can’t give thanks for being so far away from them, but I gave thanks for a somewhat new computer, the Internet and Facebook, and for a cell phone that sends marvelous pictures and text messages that start “Hi, Grandma!”. I gave thanks for an American life that my grandmother and her cousin could not have dreamed of.
I gave thanks for the young military people who lay their lives on the line to protect that American life.
And as I shop in a fearful economy for Christmas gifts to send, food to cook and warm clothes to wear, I give thanks for Macy’s and my Mastercard.