Lincoln Caplan: Thanksgiving Scripture

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In 1936, with the Great Depression persisting, the governor of Connecticut issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation so inspiring that people in the state learned it by heart as if it were scripture. It was common then to memorize stirring speeches and other texts, but not public decrees. The proclamation’s message and 2010’s turmoil make this a very good year to re-read the document.

The governor was Wilbur Cross, and he wrote the proclamation himself. He was an esteemed Shakespeare scholar and had just retired from Yale after an impressive career as an English professor and luminary. At the age of 68 in 1930, by a tiny margin, he won an encore career in politics. His appeal as governor shows what we are missing today....

In a period more trying than our own, Cross did for Connecticut what no leader seems able to do for America today. He buoyed hearts with reassuring words about shared blessings — “the yield of the soil that has fed us and the richer yield from labor of every kind that has sustained our lives.”

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralState Government* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.

Posted November 26, 2010 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) wrote:

As students in Connecticut in 1960 we indeed had to memorize this decree, and I’m surprised how much of it still sticks with me, along with the Gettysburg address, some other things, and most of that era’s BCP Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer offices.

What strikes me from this distance in both time and place is his comment about “the yield of the soil that has fed us.” It remained so in the early ‘60s.

Our Thanksgiving turkey came from half a mile down the road. What potatoes and vegetable did not come from our garden, or my grandfather’s, came from the numerous truck farmers in the region. The milk and eggs came from a neighbor, part of my pay for shovelling manure and helping to milk 35 cows by hand before and after school.

Some years we’d have oyster chowder and breaded baked clams along with everything else, especially if we had the meal at my maternal grandparents’ home, since Grandma’s family was were in the shellfish business. The dragger built by my great grandfather (and named after great Gran) is still harvesting shellfish.

We’d wash it down with copious hard cider which Dad and Grandpa and I had made out on the side porch, just as they had done back during Prohibition when Dad was a kid. There was, of course, apple pie, served with cheddar cheese from about four towns away.

The cranberries? They came all the way from Massachusetts. Really the only thing that came from more than about a hundred miles away was the flour for pie crust and rolls.

A quarter century after Wilbur Cross’s decree the agricultural world he subsumed in his decree still prevailed, but a quarter century after my youth ... it was gone. Every bit of it.

Not so many years ago the Connecticut Legislature abolished the Department of Agriculture on grounds of its insignificance. Vetoed by the governor, but tragically reflective, nevertheless, of what had prevailed for centuries yet had been lost in but two generations.

November 26, 10:23 am | [comment link]
2. Larry Morse wrote:

This is what leadership means. Leadership has this in common with obscenity: No one can define it, but we all recognize it when we see it. 
  Bart Halls’ above is painful to read - all the more so because I am a farmer. What Conn has lost, it will never get back, and it has replaced its loss with nothing of the same value. And here, I have to watch as rich people from the outside buy up the coast and the sweet farming lands. It doesn’t have to be this way, but stopping it will require seeing a new society, a new culture. Larry

November 26, 10:31 am | [comment link]
3. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) wrote:

Except for the turkey (Iowa) and the cranberries (Wisconsin), almost everything on our plates yesterday came from our own fields, just a few hundred yards away.

The weather this year has been the worst in almost 40 years of farming. Incessant rains, followed by seven weeks of triple-digit drought, were devastating to our business because so many crops were lost. Bad weather is much tougher in horticulture because the stakes are so much higher.

Still, we have much to be thankful for, and despite the weather pleasantly large amounts of our produce ended up on Thanksgiving tables within about 15 miles.

One of my great joys in life is praying as I harvest: praying for those people, unknown, who can be nourished through God’s provision by my hands and mind; praying that as they delight in truly delicious food they may “taste, and see that the Lord is good;” praying for harmony and love in their families, and so on.

I’m incredibly thankful for the privilege of growing good food.

This year in particular, I’m also profoundly thankful for the promise of a new beginning, come February. There is a young woman here in Kansas who has asked us to raise the child she now carries. At 62 I shall once again become the father of an infant.

The farm home was ever so much more important to her than any concern about age.

Besides, what am I supposed to do in my 60s? Write lousy poetry and work on my golf game ... or nurture a new generation of disciples and leaders?

There is no more important crop I could ever raise, and I can hardly wait for the crappy nappies. As it is, I already have to check all five greenhouses three times every night that time of year, so changing and feeding a newborn is no big deal.

Better yet, they eat and crap way less than a cow.

November 26, 11:33 am | [comment link]
4. Larry Morse wrote:

An excellent decision. That this child will grow on a farm is his/her finest chance to know what work really means and what freedom - elbow room, room to turn freely around - means. To be brought up knowing that God is at hand and to be ever thankful, is an even greater blessing.
  I dunno about the golf but you should continue to write poetry, as I do, and for the same reason.
  I wish I had a greenhoouse.

November 26, 1:46 pm | [comment link]
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