The nearly true story of the First Thanksgiving

There’s a lot of grumbling that young people don’t know history like they should. If we’re honest, we must acknowledge an inherent problem to being young and learning history. The younger you are, the more there is to learn.

Curious, I asked five members of the youngest generation in our family (preschool through early elementary) for the story of the first Thanksgiving.

What follows is “The Nearly True Story of the First Thanksgiving.”

“The king said they weren’t allowed to worship God so the Pilgrims wanted to come to America where they could do what they wanted. They picked a ship called the Mayberry.”

“No, I think they came on the Mayflower.”

“It was a long trip. It took a year, maybe two. The kids played games on the ship, mostly soccer, but also some tic-tac-toe.”

“There was a captain on the ship and he had guiders who helped guide the ship.”

“The Pilgrim ladies wore blue dresses. They looked like Mary and Laura from Little House. The men wore blue shirts and jeans. Pilgrims were like pioneers.”

“Some of the people on the ship got sick and died. A baby was born on the ship. His name was Oceanus.”

“They sailed and sailed until someone said they saw land.”

“They landed at the Mayflower. There was a rock that said Mayflower right where they were landing.”

“They didn’t have much food and were very hungry.”

“They ate fish and probably berries out of the woods. The men went out to hunt deer and bears. I don’t think I would eat bear meat, unless I was super hungry. I bet I would if I was super hungry.”

“More Pilgrims died that winter. Maybe more than half. We think they had little pox. In one family, both the mom and dad died and one girl had to live alone. She only had herself.”

“Only two families survived without losing any family members. One of them was Oceanus’ family. None of the people in his family died.”

“In the spring, a couple of guys were hunting for food and they saw an Indian. He helped them learn how to plant and harvest and where the lakes were and how to weed and other good stuff and how to make fire.”

“And he helped them bury the fish in the ground.”

“When fall came, they wanted to celebrate and called it the First Thanksgiving. They were going to celebrate that they were alive, so they had a big feast.

“They had turkey and deer, potatoes and carrots, ham and chicken.”

“The Indians brought popcorn. Salted popcorn. The Pilgrims had never seen that before.”

“They played a lot of games. The moms might have knitted mats for checkers and cut wood from trees like checkers. Oh, and they might have carved chess sets, too.”

“Did you get the part about popcorn? Salted popcorn.”

“They played and ate and thanked God for letting the Indians be nice to them and they thanked that one special Indian for helping them learn their way.”

And there you have it – a composite account of the first Thanksgiving as told by the historians of tomorrow.

Did I Dippity Do? Sure did!

My hairstylist told me something frightening. She said bangs are making a big comeback. Not little wispy bangs and not the swept-to-the-side bangs, but thick straight bangs—the kind that can obscure your vision, scratch your corneas and make eye contact completely discretionary.

The dreams of my youth have returned.

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I spent years pursuing thick fringe bangs. Everybody who was anybody had bangs — a curtain of straight, thick hair that hid their eyebrows and framed their eyes like a luxurious theater curtain.

My bangs were like a curtain of sorts, too—like an old spring-loaded roller shade. As soon as I combed them down, they sprang right back up.

Girls with thick, straight fashionable bangs were going places. The only place I was going was to the drugstore. Every dollar of babysitting money was spent on hair products guaranteed to transform untamed curly hair into thick long, beautiful shocks of straight hair.

Dippity Doo was my first hope. Following the directions, I applied it to wet bangs and waited until they dried. It turns out that Dippity Doo was part wallpaper paste. It straightened my bangs, but they were so plastered against my forehead that it looked like large spiders had been smashed directly above my eyes.

My next great hope was magic tape. You combed wet bangs into place and taped them down, affixing the tape to the sides of your forehead before you went to bed. Yes, it did hurt when it came off. Yes, it did leave skin red and irritated. Yes, it was the price of beauty.

When the tape failed, I tried wrapping my hair around empty tin cans. Sleep was nearly impossible, and I was forever smelling green beans.

All this was before the days of straight irons. But there was another iron. It was the iron my mother used on clothes.  I’d heard talk in gym class of girls ironing their hair.

Cautiously—not to mention foolishly—I set the iron on low, sectioned a piece of hair on the ironing board and pressed. It’s not easy to see what you’re ironing when your face is smashed against an ironing board, but the first section felt smooth and straight so I ironed another and another. With each glide of the iron, I just knew I was inching closer to true beauty.

I stood up and walked to a mirror.

Unbelievable.

My bangs were straighter than they’d ever been. Unfortunately, they stuck out at a 90-degree angle. I had created a human hair visor.

I was wrong about the gel, the tape, tin cans and the iron. I was also wrong thinking my parents would not notice something odd about my hair visor at dinner.

As frightening as it is to hear that bangs are back in style, I believe that I now have the maturity to let a trend pass without me.

Besides, there is comfort in knowing it could always be worse.

At least shoulder pads aren’t returning.

There’s always room for more

We are on Round 61, or thereabouts, of the Rotating Stuff game where family members try to get rid of their stuff by leaving it with other family members to put with their stuff.

We first began playing the game when the kids went to college. They always came home with far more stuff than they left with. When they went back to college each year, they left a lot of the extra stuff behind in bedroom closets, on shelves and under the bed.

“Mind if I leave a few things here?”

“Sure,” we said, “There’s always room for more.”

Sometimes I stood in the doorway of their rooms and shed a tear thinking, “They’re gone but at least we have their stuff.”

We let their stuff be. We didn’t touch their stuff. We let it gather dust and watched as it silently multiplied into more stuff.

Whenever one of them graduated, got a new job and moved into a new apartment, we immediately seized the opportunity to take all their old stuff and move it in with their new stuff.


“How have you managed without these two large wooden oars, snowshoes and 17 crates of art supplies?” we asked.

The score was back in our favor. But not for long. When they each got engaged, they moved back home for a few months before their weddings.

“Mind if I bring some of my stuff?”

“Sure,” we said. “There’s always room for more.”

They brought more stuff. Bigger stuff, heavier stuff. Furniture, small appliances, a big beat-up pickup truck with dual exhaust. The neighbors loved it. Especially when our son fired it up at 6 in the morning or came home late at night.

The day after they each walked down the aisle and said, “I do,” we quickly began moving their stuff out of our place into their place.

The key to winning the Rotating Stuff game is generosity. When you give their stuff back, give ten times as much stuff as they gave to you.

They started having babies and we started accumulating more stuff—cribs, pack and plays, high chairs, potty chairs, sound machines, baby monitors, blankets and toys.

Pacifiers and diapers filled what were once empty dresser drawers. Sippy cups, plastic dishes, bibs and child-size forks and spoons were crammed into the pantry.

“We’re running out of room,” I muttered.

“The closets are beyond full,” the husband lamented.

Then the youngest called. Her little family has outgrown their small home and will be moving. Could we help store some of their stuff?

“The garage is full,” the husband said.

“The attic is packed,” I said.

“What do you need space for?” we asked.

“Three little girls, my husband and me.”

It will be five months before they can get into their house, a new build.

“Sure,” we said. “There’s always room for more.”

I took the mermaid challenge

Holidays do strange things to people. Take Halloween—it made me think I can sew.

I was driving one of the grands home and she was rattling off what everyone was going to be for Halloween. She said she really, really, really wanted to be a mermaid this year, but she couldn’t.

“I don’t have a costume and Mom said we’re not spending money on Halloween costumes.”

“You could make one,” I said, slowly inching toward a giant sticky trap for humans.

“I saw a picture of one, but you have to use a glue gun to make it. I’m a kid, Grandma. I’m not allowed to use a glue gun.”

I glanced in the rearview mirror. Her eyes drooped, her mouth drooped, even her little shoulders drooped. She was resigned to the fact that she would not be a mermaid.

“I could probably make one out of things you buy at JoAnn’s,” she said wistfully, “like that JoAnn’s we’re driving by right now.”

She didn’t ask, she was just dreaming. And then I began dreaming with her. Actually, it was more like an out-of-body experience, because I heard my voice say, “Maybe I could make you a mermaid costume.”

Did I mention I haven’t sewn in a decade? That, even when I did sew, I turned most of my projects into square pillows?

“Really?” she squealed. Her cheeks flushed with roses, her eyes danced and her smile sparkled. She was ecstatic, like she’d just won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes.

“You’ll probably have to find out how to make one,” she said, bubbling with excitement. “When do you think that would be? Want me to call you tomorrow to find out? What time should I call?”

The kid had visions of a glittering Disney mermaid costume and I was wondering if Duck Tape comes in green.

“I’ll think about it tonight and call you tomorrow afternoon,” I said.

My phone rang the next day at two minutes past noon. It was Excitement calling.

“Is it done yet?”

Not quite. I’d found something on Pinterest that looked doable—doable for someone with patience and talent, both of which I had none.

Like I let that stop me.


That night I battled a monstrosity of pink netting that kept growing and growing, filling the entire kitchen. As I rethreaded the sewing needle for the 13th time, neighbors may have heard screeching piercing through the windows. That would have been me asking an empty room why the mermaid’s mother didn’t just buy her a costume!

If a little girl comes to your door trick-or-treating and looks like she’s wearing a giant green tube sock with uneven pink ruffle at the bottom, it’s one of my grands.

For the love of children, pretend you think she looks like a mermaid.

I told her not to let anyone examine her costume up close because I don’t want others taking my good ideas. And that she should walk fast, but take tiny steps.

The costume isn’t great, but it may do the trick.

Pretty as a picture — or not

I have just been handed a new portrait of myself. I look like someone who got off the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland and needs medical attention. Or like someone who staggered out of a bar at 3 a.m. after a night of binge drinking. Or like SpongeBob SquarePants’ grandmother—SpongeBob’s deranged and demented grandmother.

It’s not bad considering it came from a 3-year-old. She meant well. At least I think she meant well.

I have new appreciation for the personal secretary of Clementine Churchill, who set fire to a portrait of Winston Churchill. The painting was commissioned by the British Parliament on Churchill’s 80th birthday and was loathed by both the Churchills.

Does one torch a portrait done by a grandchild?

No, not one this funny.

My eyes are askew, and I have a crooked smile, overlapping eyebrows and curly hair wherein each curl looks like a tiny contorted worm. The whole package is encased in a square body, hence the SquarePants family resemblance.

Maybe I’m being vain, but I didn’t think I was the shape of a square. At least not yet. Maybe I’m delusional. They say we never see ourselves the way others do.

Do we ever like pictures of ourselves?

Personally, I prefer all close-ups of myself to be taken at a distance of at least 50 feet.

We often think we look better than we do. Then, when we see candids of ourselves, we are sometimes taken aback.

Me? That’s me?

Who did you think it was?

The camera doesn’t lie.

Thankfully, Photoshop can.

I will say the SpongeBob SquarePants Grandma drawing is better than a portrait another grandchild did. At only age 7 and the child went for stark realism, drawing in every wrinkle and laugh line. My face looks like an unforgiving all-cotton sheet left in the dryer too long.

I’ve given the kid 30 days to redeem herself.

In the child’s defense, I come from a family of wrinkles. Both sides. My mother, whom I will always love for her dark sense of humor, used to comment on my nice skin, then cup her wrinkled face in her hands and say, “Behold your future.”

The publicity photo I use is several years old and should probably be updated with a more current one. A new publicity photo isn’t as simple as it sounds. There’s an art to the publicity photo. You want it to look nice, but not too nice. If it is too nice people won’t recognize you when they meet you in person and will feel tricked and betrayed. It is far better, albeit mildly humiliating, to send out a realistic photo and have people pleasantly surprised when they meet you in person.

“You look much better than your photograph.”

Mission accomplished. Wince and say, “Thank you.”

I may start sending out my SpongeBob Grandma portrait. People should be thrilled when they meet me in person—and ask how long my recovery took.

These boots were made for givin’

Our youngest daughter can be stubborn about receiving gifts and I told her so.

She took it well.

“Where do you think I get it from?” she asked.

“I’m not stubborn when it comes to receiving gifts,” I said. “I used to be, but not now. I’m gracious.”

“And you’re humble!” she cackled.

“Right. I’m gracious and humble when someone gives me a gift. Thanks for pointing that out.”

She has a birthday coming up and we want to get her new boots, cowboy boots. All the females in our family have cowboy boots. We consider them a staple—like chocolate.

She is married, has little ones and, like many young mothers, focuses the bulk of her time and exhaustion on others.

Boots are not cheap, but we wanted to do something special, get her something she could use and enjoy for some years to come. But she’s pushing back, drawing a line in the sand—with old and worn-looking boots, I might add.

I pushed back, she pushed back, and we are locked in a mother-daughter wrestling match over stubbornness, receiving gifts with grace and how much is too much to spend on a special gift.

She thinks we do too much. I used to think the same thing about my parents. My parents weren’t extravagant people whose giving knew no restraint, but they were generous.

They kept saying they enjoyed giving, but I couldn’t hear because I was focused on money evaporating into the clouds.

Years ago, I mentioned to a friend that I thought my mother overdid when it came to gifts for our children.

My friend, closer to my mother’s age than mine, looked at me with indignation and said, “Who are you to tell your mother what she can do?”

I wanted to argue with her, but I didn’t. I knew it was one of those moments to file in my memory bank.  I didn’t fully understand it then, but I understand it now—now that I’m a grandmother myself and older.

The longer you live, the more you see how very often things go wrong. Marriages crumble, friendships are torn, family members become estranged and accidents and disease tragically cut lives short. There is a brokenness that permeates much of life.

So, when you see life going well, families working hard and growing strong and children thriving, you want to celebrate.

You want to stand on a chair and cheer.

You want to applaud.

You want to buy boots.

It took the seasoning of time to help me understand that giving is an expression of joy as much as it is an expression of love. I understand where my daughter is coming from, but I also understand where my parents were coming from—a place of pure and simple joy celebrating those moments when life goes well.

I love my family, but

I love my family—but.

There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?

But some days. That’s all, but some days.

The Chicago wing of the family was here recently, so the entire clan got together and it was a long weekend. A long, noisy, cluttered, stepping-over-diaper-bags and infant car seats and toys-in-the-kitchen-where-they-don’t-belong weekend.

I fed 34 in two separate shifts. Oh, someone ate the last piece of chicken, so I didn’t have to wrap it up but other than that I was on my own. The kids were watching their kids.

The backyard was littered with water toys, an inflatable water slide, an inflatable pool, plastic golf clubs, wet towels, sand everywhere but in the sandbox, plastic bats and balls, a toddler with a welt on the side of her head and swarms of mosquitoes. Yes, we know it’s fall, but it was a beautiful day and a last hurrah of summer.

My pleas that 11 grandkids would change into swimwear upstairs and not scatter their clothes throughout the house was unheeded. Apparently, my mouth moves, but no sound comes out. Children’s shorts, shirts, tops and underwear were scattered in every room, like a department store trashed after a major sale.

Three times my shoes stuck to the kitchen floor where someone had spilled lemonade. I hadn’t planned on serving lemonade, but when someone asked the husband if they could have lemonade, naturally, he said yes. He always says yes.

I love my husband—but.

I heard a commotion out by the kiddie pool. It was a tussle over the hose and shrieks that someone had deliberately sprayed someone else in the face.

In the glare of the afternoon sun, small ripples in the kiddie pool began looking like ocean waves gently rocking a luxury liner calling my name. It was a cruise ship with porters and stewards in crisp uniforms carrying plated trays of adult hors d’oeuvres—no half-eaten cheese cubes or rubbery fruit snacks shaped like animals.

I saw myself relaxing on deck in a lounge chair, holding an iced fruity drink in sparkling stemware (not some beat-up colored plastic kiddie cup) in one hand and a book in the other. The activity director stopped by to remind me of my appointment at the spa.

Nobody was asking for bandages, sun screen or anti-allergy meds or if I knew where they left their shoes.

It was quiet.

Too quiet.

Where was the loud, curly-headed tot who has named herself “Peanut”? The kid with brown eyes behind big glasses, the one who can never leave without a hug and a kiss? The one who always throws the hand towel on the floor and leaves the water running in the bathroom?

Book a cruise and miss all this? Never.

Well, maybe.

No, never.

They’re all gone now. Sheets have been stripped from the beds, the washing machine is humming, the house is back in order and the kitchen floor is clean.

Tomorrow, I’ll be wondering when they’ll all be back.

As for now, it’s 7:32 p.m., and I’m thinking of going to bed.

I love my family.

Waltzing through the anniversary dance

We have attended a number of weddings this year. It has been a good year for weddings, but we may have to give up dancing.

Anniversary dances have just about done us in. The anniversary dance is where married couples are invited to begin dancing. The dance floor is jam-packed with couples bumping into one another, jostling each other and having a marvelous time.

Those married less than one year are asked to leave the dance floor.

The crowd laughs as the amateurs exit.

A little later, those married less than five years and ten years, respectively, are asked to leave. The dance floor opens up a little more.

Those married less than 15 and 20 years exit and the remaining couples give them nods of respect as they return to their tables.

Those married less than 25 years are asked to leave and we are suddenly conscious that we are now visible. Others may actually see our dance moves. Or lack thereof.

I am frozen in time at the 25-year mark. This is where I remember most often leaving the dance floor and thinking,

“Wow, those people still out there dancing must be really old.”
And now we are still out here dancing and I look around thinking, where are the old people? And then it hits me –

We are the old people!

When did this happen?

They knock out those married less than thirty years and only a dozen or so couples remain on the dance floor. This is what you get for attending a wedding where nearly all of the guests are under 40.

Couples eye each other trying to determine who is older. My crow’s feet look worse than hers, but she’s wearing comfort shoes. My husband has more hair than some of those guys, but some men go bald early.

I wonder why the bride and groom’s grandparents aren’t out here. I know for a fact they are considerably older than we are. Oh sure, they may have just had knee replacements, but they could two-step if they wanted to.

They knock out those married less than 35 years and the dance floor is sparse. Very sparse. We’re talking blue-whale and Asian-elephant sparse.

The dance floor looks like the parking lot at the mall at 2 a.m.

Young people are back in their seats—the very seats we used to sit in—thinking, “Those people are really old.”

Some of the couples still dancing were married the same year we were. They had the same wedding cake with the plastic bride and groom on top and the punch fountain in the center of the cake. Don’t laugh. It was cool.

They release those married less than 40 years from the dance floor. We exhale and exit. Close call. For now.

The longest married couple on the dance floor has been wed for 57 years and they glow.

The round of applause and gift bag is theirs. I don’t want them –the applause and the gift bag—but I’ll gladly take the older couple.

What I really want is to comprehend how the years goes by so quickly. And to keep dancing.

 

Alexa the know-it-all knows who’s boss

I got into it with Alexa, a voice-controlled virtual “home assistant,” the other day.

I don’t trust Alexa and I never have.

A true home assistant could clean up after dinner, run the vacuum and toss a load of laundry in the washer—all at the same time.

Alexa the home assistant doesn’t do any of that. She just sits, watching, listening, taking it all in. Besides that, she’s bossy. I don’t have a problem with bossy—as long as I’m the one being bossy.

I asked the husband if he would like an Alexa and he said, no, he already had enough women telling him what to do—GPS, Siri and me.

It’s not that Alexa isn’t useful; she is. She can tell you what the weather is so you don’t have to stick your head outside, answer random questions so you don’t have to exert yourself typing them into Google and buy things online so you don’t have to get in the car and physically go somewhere.

Basically, Alexa’s job is to make us more sedentary than we already are.

Fortunately, Alexa does not live with us but with our daughter, her tech husband and their mini-tech tots. Our daughter recently put one of her girls in time out and instructed Alexa to set the timer. Ten seconds later she heard her two-year-old whisper, “Alexa, turn off the timer.”

Kids. Can you ever really stay ahead of them?

I was recently left alone with the tiny tots, three of their young cousins and Alexa. I was given instructions not to say emergency, firetruck or ambulance in front of Alexa as she might summon them. It used to be a grandma was afraid of what the kids might do, but now grandma needs to be afraid of what the virtual home assistant might do.

Once my daughter was gone, I decided to set the record straight with Alexa.

“Alexa, who’s the boss?” I asked.

“Well, I’m here just for you, so you’re probably the boss.”

Got that one right, home assistant!

One of the tots directed Alexa to play music so we could have a dance party. Alexa began playing and then one of the tots told Alexa to raise the volume.

So she did.

Then they all started instructing Alexa to raise volume. The walls shook, the window panes pulsated, the carpet stood on end and the music was so loud that we all had our hands over our ears and three of the kids barricaded themselves in a bedroom.

“Alexa, volume down!” I yelled. “Decrease Volume!” “Softer music!”

She wasn’t responding. I was at my wit’s end, but I kept commanding. “Sit, Alexa, sit!” “Roll over!” “Play dead!” Nothing.

I realized Alexa couldn’t hear me over her own volume and the kids yelling. I walked up to Alexa and in my best mom voice, shouted, “ALEXA, TURN DOWN THE MUSIC!”

Finally.

I relayed the episode to my daughter who said, “You could have just walked over and turned her off.”

Now she tells me.

My big break as a writer

It has been an uneventful week except for Wednesday, when the chair I was sitting in collapsed.

When you hear something like that, the natural response is, “For goodness sake, woman, how much do you weigh?”

To which I, the woman, would reply, “None of your business, but apparently enough to collapse a chair.”

You may have heard that I am still carrying several extra pounds from my last pregnancy and that would be true. And, yes, it also would be true that the baby from that last pregnancy is now 32 and has two babies of her own, but let’s not get caught up in the numbers.

I lay blame on the chair, not the woman in the chair.

The chair was one of two the husband scored at an estate sale years ago. It is (or was, I should say) a small, wooden folding chair, the sort that was popular decades ago and is sometimes still used for seating at frilly romantic outdoor weddings.

In my defense, both small wooden folding chairs have been used many times at family gatherings, often occupied by male relatives a full foot taller than me and many, many pounds heavier. Who knows, maybe the fellas weakened the chairs. I like where this is headed.

In any case, I have used one of the small wooden folding chairs in my upstairs office for two years. There I was, fingers flying across the keyboard, when I hear an awful racket and find myself on my back on the floor.

The husband heard the racket and hollered, “Are you OK?”

I was OK, but not wanting to waste spectacular drama on an empty room, I replied, “Why don’t you come see?”

It wasn’t like one support peg wiggled loose—the entire thing flew apart with wooden dowel rods, chair legs and wooden slats scattering across the hardwood floor.

After helping me up, my beloved asked what I had done to the chair.

Had I been bouncing on it? As if I often bounce up and down while I write, particularly on a small wooden chair.

Had I been standing on it? As if I stand on wooden folding chairs.

Ordinarily, I would object to such a line of questioning but he was as bewildered as I was that a chair could completely fall apart in every direction. I think the glue in the joints simply dried up and gave way.

The husband, who would always rather try and fix something than throw it in the trash, mournfully carried the chair parts to the trash. He enjoys old artifacts that have been gently loved and have a rich history. I’m counting on his fondness for antiques to work in my favor as I age.

But right now, I am working on my resume as a stunt double.