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Thanksgiving Watch
11/26/2014 4:35:23 PM

By Jim French

It began this Thanksgiving week with the two tiny head snapping youngsters, seemingly oblivious to those around them as a rhythm played a private concert in their heads at the corner of King and Romney Streets. Their lips moved as if reading sign languages, these neatly-dressed students turning it on at their own party.

I had been thinking about a Thanksgiving column all week. Should I stop and reflect, at this time, to give thanks to those who have made our lives richer just by being there? Or should I write about those among us who have achieved upward mobility and have become apologist for racism at our expense? But as I watched the toy couple, moving on their private carousel, I realized this was a beautiful afternoon in my town.

It was contrived but simple. From a wood-frame house on Romney St., there came the faint sound of Michael Jackson as people moved along the street two-by-two. Further up King St., in King’s Plaza I paused to get a 6-pack to chase down the pizza. Then, as I was leaving CVS, I noticed the mood of the people. Even those with work-drained bodies smiled as they waited for the CARTA buses, laden with fixin's for Thanksgiving, while young students pranced along the sidewalk in all their innocence.

Resting between a weather-beaten house on Simons St. was an elderly gent with a rummy’s face, gloriously creased and puckered, inflamed as though he was fighting a hangover, which he was. There was in the brother’s look all the kindness and the weakness of the good-natured drunk, a kind of uncle a lot of us knew, who came on Thanksgiving, half-loaded but burdened with fruits and food, slightly embarrassed by his generosity and a little ashamed of his shakiness. I don’t recall seeing a brother like that in a long time. They all seem to appear around the start of the holiday season.

I stopped at Bi-Lo Super Market to pick up dinner at the deli for a late worker at the office, and already preparations were being readied for Christmas while turkeys waited in refrigerated cases waiting to fatten bellies for a Thanksgiving yet to arrive.

There were turkeys, chickens, hams, buckets of chitterlings as if in a parade, and there was fish and shrimps and then I saw the boy’s eyes. He was about six, shabby and disheveled, all by himself, gazing at the prizes he seldom shared and feasting on what others take for granted. “Look at that,” he said, meaning all of it. “Look at that.”

He addressed no one but himself and he was an attentive audience, moving along the meat counter, his eyes reaching for what he would never get, appearing to understand that, too.

In the parking lot outside the store there appeared to be the sound of music. It isn’t possible for me to forget Thanksgivings ago when Rev. Fred D. Dawson marched in downtown Charleston to protest the firing of a young mother whose only sin was asking for more hours to work. This grand man, this true friend of humanity, like so many of our fallen heroes, are too soon forgotten and relegated to the dank pages of history, deeds forgotten. And as cynical as I know how to be, no one will ever convince me that Charlestonians will turn the humanity of Rev. Dawson into a forgotten remembrance as we approach Thanksgiving and all its meanings. I will never believe that.

The idea for the column dropped from my thoughts. Two children tagged behind their mother as she headed for the bus stop loaded with groceries. She had a smile on her lips and hummed a tune I couldn’t make out and I was elated. I thought I’m a lucky guy to be here at this time. I remember too vividly the boys in Vietnam being massacred, the people in South Africa, stolid in a resolve for freedom, humble in their patience. I felt a twinge of guilt because I know how fortunate I am to be here at another Thanksgiving.

I guess my thankfulness is based on my contention and belief that we live in better times than our foreparents. It hasn’t been that long ago when Blacks in this village could not stay in downtown hotels, eat in restaurants or try on clothing along King St. and beyond. There were no Blacks in city council and only a few wore the uniform of policemen, and now, in 2014, the police administration building is named to honor the services of the late Top Cop, Reuben Greenberg.

Could be that I’m happy for today because I am aware that in a society so complex and confused, one must be thankful for each day that we can enjoy the simple and really important joys of life: feeling, touching, hearing, seeing, loving and giving thanks to The Almighty watching over us.

Could be on this Thanksgiving Eve, I am like so many others, pleased that African Americans are finally awakening. I am thankful that progress is being made fighting the diseases which ravage mankind.

Remembering my salad days in Kansas where snow piled up like mashed potatoes, there was always a lot of gambling by the poor to get up turkey money for Thanksgiving. Anyone serving the usual fare of neck bones, fish, chicken or spaghetti was the sign of a poor provider. The family that didn’t have a turkey was ostracized.

In my neighborhood the politicians gave away baskets containing the ingredients for a family turkey dinner. But a pool shark friend of mine believed these baskets humiliated the poor. So he gave them discreet handouts of money. The women would collect the money for it would be too risky to give a drinking man money for a turkey while the joints were still open.

Those are beautiful remembrances of my youth and now I’m in another place, another time and for many who walk these mean-streets, this Thanksgiving will be celebrated with complacency and bleakness. Those who wish for turkey, ham and the trimmings, will settle for last night’s leftovers. Poor people cannot but remember the human suffering and causes of it, and ask themselves again and again what is it that they have done and have left undone which produced the miseries that prolong it.

Yet, we have much to be thankful for because life itself is good, truth will triumph, and hope in the bosom of us all, continues to surge against all odds. Thanksgiving is a form of hope and joy that will lead us to acknowledge and appraise our advantages as we work for better days in God’s paradise, and a Black president will remind us of that star in the East that bespeaks of hope for all humankind.

As Lowell said, “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, yet that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.


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