The Day Before the Thanking Day

Yesterday here in the precincts north of Boston we had classic Day Before Thanksgiving weather, with air like apple cider and a sun so strong the shadows lay black on the bright-green grass.

If I were still little, I’d have looked out at that bright green grass and seen pheasants doing their strut-walk in our yard, funny as it seems to say that since we lived in a city.

Lowell was the nation’s first planned city, a factory town filled with mills and rowhouses and churches for every wave of immigration… And yet here we had pheasants out back.

Why? Because the city sits on the confluence of two rivers, muscular and sudsy, and they are the real main characters in Lowell’s story.

Even now, you drive through Lowell and Lawrence and Haverhill and all you have to do is squint your eyes to see the old fields lying just beyond the downtown, just under the suburban-style homes with their driveways and their swing sets.

Our old house in Lowell sits on what had been, since Revolutionary times, an apple orchard. The house to our right was the farmhouse and the one to our left was its barn. We were the dooryard between the two, with this row of little apple trees marching out back, crooked and stooped like the oldest soldiers in the parades of your childhood.

The oldest soldiers at the school assemblies of my youth were from the Great War mostly. I even remember one from the Spanish American War, that fraudulent 1890’s conflict cooked up by a nation bent on empire. When my mom was little they saw veterans from the Civil War at their school assemblies, imagine it! There’s footage on YouTube of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg that would break your heart.  It makes me think of how seldom we ever think on the blood that was shed over time. After Memorial Day, after Veterans Day, who thinks of all that sacrifice, besides the families whose sons and daughters who have most recently shed it?

I feel ashamed for all we take for granted in this country; I mean for the peace, both and political that allows someone like me to dream back and paint pictures of times gone by.

We wake today to rain in New England. Rain with all its own charms. Rain that send us hurrying back indoors, grateful for the hot tea and the dry towel…

I opened my eyes at 6am to the rain. Then I closed them again and saw those pheasants, and our neighbor’s great old dog Tramp coming over to greet us as we jumped in the swirling leaves, the brown oak leaves that are falling this week, the last to go always, like me the most reluctant to acknowledge an end to the gaudy party. 

the next door neighbors’ glider, with the old apple trees that dotted both our yards

12 thoughts on “The Day Before the Thanking Day

  1. “Who thinks of all that sacrifice, besides the families whose sons and daughters who have most recently shed it?”

    Me and thousands of men and women who marched under the standard of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. Finally, a writer weaves the fabric of sacrifice into the cloak of Thanksgiving Day in place of cozy, safe stories about juicy turkeys and endless football games.

    I commend you Teacher, on behalf of my fellow United States Marines. Your dreams and memories of yesteryear capture the essence of it all, freedom.
    You know, that thing that allows us to stuff our faces while others die.

    “Semper Fidelis”

    LNCPL. B. M.Foley, USMC

  2. Our school district where I taught, Terry, was built on an old World War II Army site called Camp Reynolds…thus, the Reynolds School District. It was named for General Reynolds, the highest ranking officer killed in battle at Gettysburg. The children in our area of Northwest PA have been raised to be “Civil War buffs” since we were named for Reynolds. Each summer PA teachers have a week’s retreat at Gettysburg College. I’ve attended it 20 consecutive years. There is a statue of General Reynolds at the main gate of Gettysburg Cemetary. I loved to just sit by that statue on a hot summer August day and watch the visitors come by. Many were curious about the statue and I gave them a brief history review of Reynolds’ involvement. Keeping a notebook handy, I wrote some observations concerning the observers themselves, some of which I shared the next semester with Reynolds students. We, at times had the feeling of being a part of living history.

    1. What a great thing to have done. I was at Gettysburg just once with David and two good friends. D and I both realized three hours was nowhere near long enough; we want to go back for three DAYS.. It’s like what Faulkner said about the past: not even being past. By some measures that terrible conflict was just moments ago!

  3. that was a great leap forward for those girls wasn’t it Rip. To escape the isolation of the farm and have their own money. They found freedom in a way and created art. See Lucy Larcom. It was the beginning of the move into cities for us all .

  4. Not too much to say from usually too wordy me but I enjoyed reading the other posts. The stories of war times that I hear come from uncles who were in WWII and Korea, sibling brothers who went to Vietnam. I watch the turmoil in today’s world and wonder if it will lead to good for our country……or not. I hated seeing the peaceful students sprayed with pepper spray and felt anger toward the cops who did it; yet, I know how much lawmen have to deal with on a daily basis. Imagine being one of them ordered to keep the peace when they are so outnumbered. Imagine kissing your family goodbye and not knowing if you will come home again. This of course applies to our military men and women as well as the police. Going back to old memories seems to put a golden glow on the past and helps with the present.

  5. A wonderful post, as always, Terry…you are a marvelous writer and I always enjoy your thoughtful, well-written posts…Happy Thanksgiving and thanks to all who have given so much for our freedoms.

  6. Terry, Thanks for the memories. My dad was in the navy in WWII and I’m so fortunate and proud to still be able to call him on Nov. 11th and wish him Happy Veterans’s Day! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

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