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General Interest

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, 2009

Here’s wishing a happy Thanksgiving to all my readers, my friends and my family. Thanksgiving is that most unusual of holidays, marking no religious celebration, a day set aside for everyone to give thanks. Thanks for what? That’s up to the individual. We all have things for which we are grateful, some universal, some very idiosyncratic and personal. That’s the beauty of a day  without hard and fast rules for what exactly is being celebrated, you can make it about what is important to yourself and your loved ones.

Without going into the oft-repeated and conflicting stories of the origins of Thanksgiving, it is today an American tradition falling on the last Thursday of November, as decreed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. There wasn’t a whole lot to be thankful for in America in 1863, what with the nation being torn apart by a bloody civil war. This was the first truly modern war, using the deadly new technologies of highly mobile and accurate heavy artillery, machine guns, rockets and repeating rifles, producing an unprecedented death toll made even more horrific by the fact that both armies were killing their own countrymen. America’s perverse grip on slavery had to be pried loose only at gunpoint.

Perhaps Lincoln figured we needed a day to count our blessings, such as they were, recall better days and hope for peace and brotherhood once again. Whatever his thinking on that, Thanksgiving as a national holiday was one more great idea from a man full of great ideas, so maybe one more thing to be thankful for is Abraham Lincoln, who didn’t instruct us on how or what to be thankful for. As for myself, this year will be a no-brainer as far as being thankful, even if it is painful. On November 13th my mother died, so this will be my family’s first Thanksgiving without her in our lives, so that’s where the pain comes in. The thanks I will give is for having my mother in the first place, a very special human being with many gifts that she shared with everyone she met without a second thought.

Mary Elizabeth Prunier Crespo was a gentle, kind, loving, generous and patient person, both by nature and by conscious effort, since her four children tested her patience and kindness daily, and the world in general tends to wear people’s goodness out if you let it. Mom never let the bastards wear her down, an she remained until her last breath a loving and generous optimist who brought out the best in anyone who came into contact with her. Her brother, my Uncle Joe, put it best at the funeral of his big sister: “She was the smartest of us, and had the most talent, but she never rubbed it in…”

And Mom had plenty of smarts and talent, returning to work when her children were in their teens and rising to become a senior budget analyst for the City of New York. As far as talent, she was a gifted oil painter, and left our large extended family plenty of artwork to beautify our homes and remind us of her always. She also played the guitar, created needlepoint images and built elaborate dollhouses with tiny furniture with working drawers and hinges the size of a fingernail clippings. She was a voracious reader, a habit she instilled in her four children. Her politics were liberal and highly moral, demanding of American leaders an adherence to the best American ideas and ideals.

A child of the Great Depression and World War 2, Mary Crespo knew poverty and national trauma and always sided with the better angels of the human spirit, hating no one, encouraging all to be the best they can be, and loving the cultural cornucopia that is New York City. And she was a giver, giving of herself and her gifts freely, quietly donating to charities and spending time with anyone who sought her out, and who always came away feeing better about themselves and a world that could produce such a person. She was not only my mother, but the best friend I ever had.

Today I give thanks for the outrageous good fortune to have known such a person, and better yet, having been her child, her student and her admirer. This first Thanksgiving without her in our lives will be hard, but none of us will skip the celebration of this Holiday that she made so memorable to so many. When we were young, our house was filled to bursting with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, laughter, Scrabble games (she still regularly bested myself and my sister in our weekly Scrabble games) and most of all, love. And since you get to pick just what it is you are thankful for on Thanksgiving Day, this year I am profoundly grateful to have been the son of a magical human being, one who’s lessons will always live on (including that it’s just fine to cook some chickens instead of that dry-ass bird turkey on Thanksgiving), who’s fierce love and unquestioned support will prop me up until my own final breath. Happy Thanksgiving, Mom. It was an honor and a great privilege to share your life.

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