Thanksgiving will be here next week. It’s my wife’s favorite holiday because it’s about family and no one needs to bring gifts or even send cards. The idea, she says, is to share time with family and friends and think about what you appreciate in life. A time to enjoy what we have earned. And, yes, I agree, it should be that. But there’s more to it. It’s also time to take stock -- and we live in troubling times.
I am thankful that I live in the most wonderful country in the world. And, yet, one day while teaching at Chestnut Hill College an African American student, unhappy because I gave her a gentleman’s C on a poorly written composition, stood up in class and lambasted me for enjoying “white privilege.” I was shocked (and later found out she had a full, charity-funded, scholarship while my tuition was paid, mostly, from my Mom’s savings and my jobs). I had no vote in my race at birth nor did she. Yet she blamed me for that too.
But I remain thankful that my grandparents settled here well over a century ago. It took courage to do that. In the case of my paternal grandfather, John Taylor, it also took guts. He left his family in industrial Manchester, England -- with one of the lowest life expectancies in Europe (wife, four kids) -- came to the United States (in steerage on the USS Haverford -- the rats had better digs) went to work as a church sexton (fancy term for janitor) lived and slept in the church basement, saved his money, and two years later sent for his family.
They moved in to a rental home, owned by a church parishioner, and eight years later his eldest daughter, my Aunt Sarah, 24, died in Philadelphia of the Spanish flu. How horrible that must have been, how they must have second guessed the move. My Dad was born in England, making me a first generation citizen of this country. He was 13 when she died. Were they still thankful? I wonder and I bet they had their doubts.
In all fairness I should state that my Mom, Helen, grew up -- until she was 16 -- with the good things in life. They lived in Glenside, she attended Cheltenham High. She was the youngest of eight children in the Phillip Roth family of Glenside (residents there since 1874 when his parents Karl and Katherine Roth brought 11-year-old Phil and seven year old Heinrich to America). Why only until she was 16? Well, first, her father died shortly after a return business trip from Europe -- he went there each year as a leather goods buyer -- and two years later the stock market crash wiped out the family finances. But she soldiered on. Went to Taylor Business College, met my father and, in 1933, they married. On their way to their honeymoon in Niagara Falls, my Dad’s father dropped dead on the train platform of a heart attack. Thankful? One doubts it.
Privileged? I never met, never knew my two grandfathers. And my own father died right before my eighth birthday. We were poor but Mom was so good at hiding it that I never figured out how bad things really were until I was much older. She was a wonderful woman, the major influence in my life and, yes, I am thankful (every day) for her. Turns out she saved the money Social Security provided for my care and put it toward my college tuition. Amazing, when I think of the sacrifices she made.
And as an American I am disappointed when today’s politicians do everything they can to undermine a president that they don’t like. He’s not a politician, has a big mouth, talks too much -- and yet has done more for this country in the last three years than I can recall others doing. If you don’t like him, beat him at the ballot box, but don’t split our country and pit friends against friends. It’s become a total mess and it both sickens and frightens me. I am not thankful of any of that. Disappointed? You bet.
I am thankful for past presidents. Harry S Truman, a wonderful man, was the first I ever saw in person -- our school class went to see him make a whistle stop tour in Philadelphia. I never saw Eisenhower, but as a kid “I liked Ike.” I saw John F. Kennedy when he campaigned in Philadelphia -- right at City Hall. I was too young to vote, but I’d have voted for him in a heartbeat. I was thankful that such men offered their talents to us. Of the rest, I loved Ronald Reagan (and met him at an NCAA banquet) and the rest were various shades of competent. Some I liked, some I didn’t but I never made a monkey of myself or an enemy of my friends spewing my feelings. I never voted a straight ticket in my life and my one run at political office was as a Democrat -- even though I am a longtime Republican -- and I lost by eleven votes.
But I’m thankful for a country that would seek out a Republican, ask him to run as a Democrat, to help get local politics in order. The GOP had dominated this (nameless) community for years and they needed new blood. The next time out (I had moved by then) the man who ran for the job I had sought won big -- and he, too, ran as a Democrat.
Maybe when Thanksgiving rolls around and we all sit down to devour poor Mr. Turkey and all the other goodies, we can take a moment and reflect on the really important things. Make a new pledge to try and understand others. Try to love them for who they are and, if we disagree, keep quiet about it when they are around.
This first generation US citizen is proud to be here. The privilege I enjoy is one we all enjoy, that of living in the greatest country in the world -- race, religion, ethnic origins not even being a factor.
Listen to Ted Taylor on WRDV FM (89.3)Tuesdays from 8 AM to Noon and Wednesdays from 10 pm – 1 am or contact him at email@example.com