Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Happy Thanksgiving

      I’m writing this short greeting on the eve of Thanksgiving.  Tomorrow we celebrate that uniquely American holiday when we gather our friends and loved ones around a banquet table and gorge ourselves with a month’s worth of sodium, fats and sugars.  The glorious day that awards the hard working chefs in each crowd, who spent countless hours shopping, prepping and cooking the sundry of “traditional” dishes, with the experience of an orgy of frenzied consumption that leaves little time to appreciate their exhaustive efforts.  Mountains of food will be devoured, at least partially, in a matter of a few minutes; with the remnants stowed in refrigeration for even more gluttony on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  It is during this celebration that the faithful, and the C&E’s (Christmas and Easter Christians), and even the non-practitioners, all pause in reverent prayer to express their gratitude for health, life, love and their own prosperity measured by whatever scales are appropriate.
     It is precisely those “scales of measurement” that need our attention.  It would be easy to mire our thanks in the worry over an unsustainable national debt growing exponentially with unchecked deficit spending, nationwide continued high unemployment with faltering consumer confidence, the looming “fiscal cliff,” the rockets flying in Gaza, or the riots in Greece and the potential relevance of their forced austerity to our own economy.  But history demonstrates that in light of rampant pessimism and despair, we still need to recognize that there is much to be thankful for.
     It started in 1623, when Governor Bill Bradford along with his fellow Plymouth colonists sat and feasted with the Wampanoag Indians for three days: 72 hours!  (That’s just about as long as we will have to spend at the gym to unstuff our gullets and arteries.)  Back then, they were thankful that they had had a harvest big enough that they weren’t going to suffer the same starvation and death they had endured during the previous two winters.  These early settlers were thankful they had something, anything to eat, now we as a society are so spoiled that we get pissed if the supermarket runs out of our favorite dinner rolls.
     About 150 years later, after we had burned a few witches, decimated most of the indigenous peoples, and started importing cheap labor from Africa, George W (no, the other one) in remembrance of those Pilgrims, signed a proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1789 to celebrate the end of hostilities with mother England and the recent ratification of the U.S. Constitution (which of course immediately instigated what we now refer to as “American Politics”). 
     Then a scant 74 years later, Haywood County, North Carolina native (that’s what they say around here) turned president, Abraham Lincoln, signed a new Thanksgiving proclamation in an attempt to “heal the wounds of the nation” and to urge people to offer tender care to “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.”  By Honest Abe’s decree, the day-of-thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the LAST Thursday of November in perpetuity.  And it stayed that way until 1939, when FDR in the midst the “great depression” moved it up a week to spur retail sales and stimulate the failed economy.  (Roosevelt is responsible for Black Friday!  Take that Walmart.)
     So even if you had to buy some substitute bread, and as we continue to argue over the interpretation of our national laws, divided as we are into red and blue states of differing philosophies, licking the wounds of yet another long war, and struggling with a precarious economy, there still should be gracious thanks.  Look across the table at your love, your child, your grandchild, or your friends, perhaps experience the joy of volunteering at your local mission, Ronald McDonald House or VA hospital, and look into the eyes of those who feel blessed because you are there.  Measure the bounties of your life by whatever scales are needed, and then, today and every day, give a look up to Heaven and pray: A Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An Angel from on High

Remember that old Steve Martin film The Jerk?  (I have to be careful here, Steve is a neighbor of mine; he lives on the other side of Mt. Pisgah in Brevard.)  Most people know him by his comedy, but around here his fame also incorporates his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, and his considerable talent as a bluegrass banjo player.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, The Jerk.  My point about that old movie is the nearly-famous line, “The new phonebook is here.  I’m somebody!”  Well, after more than a month of trying, I finally got the beloved United States Postal Service to update their computer to recognize my new address as a legitimate destination.  Yes, at long last, I am somebody.
            Don’t get me wrong, I have been receiving mail all along.  The mailman and the local post office knew I was here, the electric company, DirecTV and UPS had no problem finding me, but for Fed Ex, Office Depot and scores of other businesses that automatically verify addresses, I was nemo, phasma, a non existentibus persona. (I’ll let you dig out your high school Latin books for that.)
            So now that I’m really here, I can resume my practice of the late afternoon mail run.  Not exactly an easy task at this new house; the mailbox is a full ½ mile away.  And although that might make for an enjoyable stroll when the weather is good, that short walk would also take me down about 500 feet in elevation.  Getting down there would probably be alright, but coming back…! 
            Even my driveway here is a bit arduous; it is almost 100 yards long, has a 90 degree turn near the top, and drops about 8 stories.  From the house, you really can’t see down the drive except for the last steep segment after the turn.  Twice I have been startled by an unexpected knock at the front door from an unheard visitor.  This prompted me to order and install an infrared sensor at the gate that triggers a chime in the house anytime someone or something starts up towards the house. 
This new toy of mine has been very convenient at letting me know my wife is home from shopping and needs help with the groceries, it signals me when UPS is here for a delivery or when a repairman, workman or neighbor arrives.   The only downside is it also picks up any critter that may venture across my property line.  Honestly, the few “false” alarms have not really been too annoying, but there is a visiting Angel that seems to enjoy announcing her presence.
            It was during the transitional “moving” days when I was still running truckloads of “do we REALLY have this much stuff” over from the other house that I sensed myself being watched.  Alone and isolated, that feeling began to play on my nerves.  More than once I exited the garage searching and listening for whomever it was that was spying, but each time I saw nothing but an empty driveway and the quiet autumn woods.
            It was after quietly placing a box of Christmas decorations into the storeroom and stealthily peering back around the corner that I first saw the pure white apparition’s face with its piercing blue eyes slowly retreating through the side door.  I won’t say it didn’t frighten me, but instead of fleeing or scrambling to find some makeshift weapon, I ran towards the door to steal yet another look at this mysterious alien.  The being knew she had been discovered and didn’t attempt another silent disappearing act; instead, she stood her ground and with mesmerizing azure eyes and a silly, toothy grin, Angel began to shake her entire body.
            A tail wag is hardly enough for this overly affectionate canine to show her pleasure, her greeting begins at her nose, traverses her neck, across her shoulders, through her torso finally ending in her raised pointy tail.  Angel doesn’t wag; she wiggles side-to-side like a fish out of water. 
I couldn’t begin to tell you her breed.  She is tall and muscular with an almost entirely white coat of short hair, broken only by a few large tan spots on her side.  Her physique is thin and agile and she can scale the steepest grades of these hills with an ease that makes a mountain goat seem awkward. 
The puppy and I hit it off immediately (I have that way with women).  She frequently comes to greet me at my truck when I arrive home, and after charming my wife and dog (not so much the cat), she visits often and has adopted our house as hers.  It’s evident that there have been times when she has come by to say hello but went unnoticed at the front door.  So it is no surprise that she has figured out that by walking through gate and past the sensor, someone always opens the door and invites her in to play.  Her new trick was very cute the first time, but…  Well, it’s actually cute every time.
            I guess when you live high up in the clouds, it should be expected that an Angel might come down to visit.