I’m a fortunate individual, born into a good family with decent moral values and an appreciation of the family unit as not only a sacred trust, but as the indispensable building blocks of our nation.
Thanksgiving is a celebration and an appreciation not only of the giants who built this great nation seeking religious freedom, as well as freedom from the tyranny and oppression of Europe. They knew whom to be thankful to, God — who was about to build the greatest nation on earth.
The first Thanksgiving took place at Plymouth in 1621 when the Mayflower pilgrims sat down for a three-day feast with the Wampanoag Indians, who took pity on the starving colonists and provided the great majority of the food.
Over the next 140 years, individual colonies and states held scattered celebrations of thanksgiving during the fall, but it wasn’t until Oct. 3, 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that the nation observes the last Thursday of November as a national holiday.
The great victory at Gettysburg had just taken place. Mindful of the great sacrifice this battle cost in lives and shattered families, our President implored the nation to repent of its imperfections and give thanks to God, who had allowed the Union to continue.
So, Thanksgiving isn’t just a day off, it’s a hallowed holiday where all should show gratitude and appreciation for our Nation, loved ones and our bountiful possessions. It would behoove us all to thoughtfully consider these things.
As a youngster, Thanksgiving was a mosaic of sights, smells, sounds, laughter, family, overeating, scrumptious desserts, my grandfather sitting at the head of the table surveying his family with benevolence. He loved the family get-togethers and the abundance his hard work had produced over the years.
From coal miner to road worker, then machinists and finally superintendent. He’d known poverty and want, sick children with little to pay the doctors.
He and grandma had sat and cried some evenings, wondering how ends would ever meet. No, Thanksgiving was more to him than turkey and dressing, it was truly a time to humbly consider the blessings surrounding him.
Grandpa always urged we hunters to bag a wild turkey for the feast. Grandma would sniff down her nose at this, she much preferred a fat, juicy, tame bird, but they’d seen times when a wild turkey was all they could hope to have.
She’d compromise and cook both together, trying to look stern about all the extra effort cooking an additional turkey required. Grandpa would kiss her, make a wisecrack and Grandma could never help smiling at this impetuous husband of hers. They truly loved one another.
Grandma made it known that any hunter shooting a turkey should at all costs not riddle it with BB’s. Turkeys are hard to kill and the technology available at the time was very basic.
Shot wasn’t hardened, velocities were low, special chokes still in the future and shot buffer and special wads unheard off. Getting a clear shot at a turkey within 30 or 40 yards was difficult at best.
After listening to 100 different opinions on what size shot to use, I bought a box of Remington Express #2 shot. Though limited in numbers, when I patterned my shotgun, one of the large shot always seemed to hit the head and neck. Everyone else was using 6’s or 4’s and scoffed at my choice, but I stubbornly stuck to my decision.
Thanksgiving Day rolled around without a wild bird harvested. Grandma was secretly pleased, I believe, but gave me a kiss and a smile anyway when I left that morning.
We drove to Minard Run and parked by the golf course where my dad had seen turkeys the day before. The morning was cold and dark, ominous gray clouds scudding overhead, the temperature in the 20s.
We spread out and began climbing. You’re never cold for long climbing a steep hill, and soon, my jacket was open.
Just below the ridge, I heard a thrashing of wings and, looking up the very steep hillside, saw three or four turkeys bust out of the roost and begin hurtling down through the treetops.
One of them would pass about 50 yards to my left. Glancing ahead of the bird, I saw an opening about 20 yards across in the treetops. More out of desperation than thought, I held on the far side of the opening and when the turkey touched the uphill side I fired.
To my utter amazement, the turkey collapsed, turned half a summersault and with its still outspread tail acting as a wind foil continued sailing down the hillside, finally hitting the earth just in sight some 100 yards below me.
I slipped, slid and tripped down to my trophy in seconds, lucky not to have broken a leg. The fat hen was in perfect shape; a single number two had broken her neck.
Back at Grandads, I was surprised, embarrassed and proud when Grandma held up my plucked turkey and informed the other hunters that I was the only one of them who knew how to properly shoot a wild turkey, in the neck.
The other hunters grumbled about dumb luck, ignorant teenagers and generally poked a little fun at me. I didn’t care, all I could see and still can see to this day, was the proud twinkle in Grandma’s eyes.