'Back to the True Spirit': Amid Uncertain Times, Still Plenty of Thankfulness
Thanksgiving -- that uniquely American holiday -- evokes more than Butterball turkeys, pumpkin pie, school vacation, football and the prelude to Christmas shopping. Giving thanks is the core.
But for what?
Family, friends and good health remain the universal answers. However, in this fractious and fearful year, Sandhills residents interviewed in an informal survey voiced a variety of profound, practical, even humorous gratitudes.
On a wintry November afternoon, Southern Pines jeweler Paul Harkness contemplated the question for a full minute. Family, friends and an ongoing business come first, Harkness said, but he expressed thanks for a book, "The Lost Voice," that made him more aware of the world situation: Iraq, the Congo, Afghanistan.
"We would like to think that these things can't happen again," Harkness said, "and I'm thankful they're not happening to me."
Amanda Gironda, folding blouses behind the counter of the Southern Pines store Jazzy's Upscale Resale (named for the fluffy white bichon curled in the window) had an instant and thought-provoking answer.
"I'm thankful the economy is the way it is," she said. "This makes people go back to the true spirit of the holiday. It brings people closer together in a sense of community. This is what Thanksgiving is supposed to be, not buying a 30-pound turkey for four people, or eating catered meals."
In this spirit, Gironda said, her family has decided to exchange small, homemade Christmas gifts.
Optimists will always see the glass -- or the tank -- half full.
"I'm so thankful for the gas prices!" Sheila McCrimmon of Hoffman exclaimed as she filled her snappy red Nissan at the Pure station in Southern Pines. "And the new president!"
After a long, dry spell, said Realtor/broker Pat Koubek, she's thankful that "I had two closings this week and that they came before Thanksgiving, so I can plan a nice Christmas,"
First treat: Thanksgiving at Myrtle Beach with her husband and dog. Instead of turkey: "Pasta at Carrabba's."
David Byers of Pinehurst said he hasn't reached thankful yet, except for his wife and children
"I'm hopeful that the (new) government can get through the partisanship, come together and put the country together again," Byers said.
With unemployment approaching double digits, Jonathan Burns of West End said he's "pretty happy to have a job" as a maintenance technician at a Southern Pines housing complex. "That, and something to spend my money on." Burns is newly engaged.
His answer was echoed by Staysa Day, a Southern Pines property manager who emigrated from Russia 11 years ago. "I'm so thankful to have a roof over my head for me and my sons."
Day has enthusiastically embraced the American holiday.
"It's a reason for family to get together," she said. "We have nothing like that in Russia. We have to make up reasons."
Day's mother, who lives in California, will be here for the celebration.
Employment -- her children's -- also appeared on the list of British-born Whispering Pines resident Linda Reinhardt.
"I'm thankful that my grown children still have jobs," she said. "My son's company was bought out, but he stayed. They're struggling, but all right."
Reinhardt is personally thankful she joined a choral group, The Notabelles, that performs at nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.
"Just sharing the music brought me fulfillment," she said.
Thankful for Friends
Nothing like a baby to create euphoric oblivion.
On a sunny afternoon, Marian You and Lori Erve, both of Pinehurst, pushed strollers down Broad Street. Each expressed thanks for new motherhood.
"Everything is different and better," Erve said, admitting that she was too busy to feel the effects of the economic downturn. You, recently from New Jersey, is thankful for the new friends she has made here.
Kids are famous for putting honesty before platitudes. Ann Page of Seven Lakes chuckles at the question, remembering what her 5-year-old granddaughter Emily, who lives in Michigan, answered: "She said she's thankful for Tater Tots, chicken, toast, bologna, fruit and treats."
The Almighty is a huge part of Thanksgiving for Elizabeth Brown of Aberdeen. Her pulpit: the fudge counter at the Christian Bookstore in Southern Pines.
"My biggest gift is that I am a child of God," she said. "He gave us all we have, regardless of what's going on in the world. We have to stand together and witness for the Lord. The government has sold us out, but it's our own fault."
More on point, Brown continued: "I'm thankful that the Lord has provided my needs. I was born in the Thirties. I know hard times. It may be harder now than a while ago, but we know how to boil a pan of water."
Part of Brown's Thanksgiving ritual is praying for American troops in Iraq.
Add Staff Sergeant David Watts of Aberdeen to her list.
His answer, that he is "thankful for family and friends," conveyed a deeper significance. On Dec. 1, after nine years' service in the National Guard, the 28-year-old husband and father of two will be deployed to Iraq for a year.
"I'm just happy I can spend time with them now," Watts said.
Missing Her Grandmother
Tears will flow when Taylortown resident Denise Wilson gives thanks on Thursday for the life of her grandmother, "Sweet Sadie" Wilson.
"She was our rock," Wilson said.
Sadie Wilson, who helped care for six younger siblings, raised five children and several grandchildren, died April 18, the same day a great-grandchild was born.
"Everybody came to her house to eat," Denise Wilson recalled. "She never turned anybody down, especially at Thanksgiving. Her sweet potatoes were the best -- sweet like her."
Wilson will take her daughters to Virginia for Thanksgiving, the first holiday without Grandma Sadie. Staying home would break her heart.
Joey Spinali and sister Dawn Spinali of Pinehurst won't stay home either, but for a happier reason. Dawn moved to the Sandhills from San Francisco, specifically to be near her sister at holiday time.
"We always went to Mexico together and ate tacos for Thanksgiving," Joey said.
This year, they're headed for the beach, with children. Joey is thankful that her 6-year-old daughter Hannah learned to read. "She can read to me, instead of me reading to her."
Shirley Eckstrom of Pinehurst is recovering from knee surgery.
"Now that I'm retired, my specialty is watching my daughter cook," Eckstrom said. "I'm thankful that someone is waiting on me."
J.T. Simmons, driving off in a car with Illinois plates, loaded with golf gear, said he was just thankful to be in Pinehurst for the week.
"I'll be really thankful if the weather warms up and I break 95," he said.
The mood was thankful reverence at a community dinner hosted by MANNA on Saturday at Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church in Southern Pines. Hymns reminded participants to give thanks beyond turkey day.
Sir Norman Taylor, a disabled veteran, paused over a heaping plate to say he was thankful that the world seems to be putting racial barriers aside and acting more like brothers and sisters.
And at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service held Sunday at the Congregational Church of Pinehurst, Rabbi Floyd Herman put forth this theory: "Be aware of the people who help us, and what they do. Say 'thank you' more often. When we thank each other, we are also thanking God."
Many people, many thoughts, many thanks.
None, however, more succinct than from Kenneth Lisenby, getting his Thanksgiving haircut at Broad Street Barbers in Southern Pines:
"I'm just thankful to be alive."
Deborah Salomon is a freelance writer who lives in Southern Pines.
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