PAT NEAL: How to have a happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving. The word conjures images of black-robed pilgrims in white starched collars sitting down to dinner with their Indian friends to give thanks at the time of harvest.

Over a hundred Pilgrims had left England in September 1620 on a scurvy voyage that was so rough the Mayflower nearly split in half.

It took until November to sail the 3,000 miles across the Atlantic. By then, the snow was falling. The pilgrims were so hungry they had to rob an Indian grave for food.

Colonizing the New World was hard work that could give you quite an appetite.

It turned out there was more to pioneering than just robbing graves and stealing land. You had to plant something. It had to grow.

By the end of the first year, the Pilgrims were sick and starving. Half of them died in the first winter.

The Indians had plenty of food. They taught the Pilgrims how to harvest maple syrup, plant corn and smoke meat.

As a way of thanking the Indians, the pilgrims wiped them off the face of the earth. The American historian and wit Will Rogers once estimated it took one round of ammunition for every acre the Pilgrims “settled.” Rogers should know, he was a Cherokee. He said, “My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, they met the boat.”

There was seldom a shortage of ammunition on the frontier.

After “settling” the Eastern Seaboard, the Pilgrims headed west to make Thanksgiving a symbol of America that we celebrate to this day.

It is the story of the American Manifest Destiny, the belief that God gave us this land.

The Pilgrims knew what to do with it. We chopped down the forest and planted corn, tobacco and cotton amid the stumps until the soil wore out, then loaded up and headed west looking for new land.

The inexorable tide of westward expansion bluffed the English, French, Italians, Portuguese, Russians and Spanish from sea to shining sea, giving us a much different Thanksgiving than the Pilgrims could ever have dreamed of.

For one thing, with the increased awareness of how man’s activities have affected global warming, burning witches has become politically incorrect.

And with the miracle of modern science, corn isn’t just for food any more. We use it for fuel in our vehicles. With the rising costs of food and fuel, today’s Pilgrims are often faced with a choice of which they can afford.

This leads to the basic question of how we will spend Thanksgiving: at home or on the road?

A Thanksgiving on the road is a travel adventure through America’s crumbling transportation infrastructure.

Thanksgiving at home is a chance to gather together under your roof a menagerie of dysfunctional family members and social climbing friends to calmly discuss their political beliefs.

I think we can all agree that there is no place for hate speech or conspiracy theories at Thanksgiving dinner.

To avoid these minefields, it might be best to stay on your phone.

If you must speak to the other celebrants at Thanksgiving, stick to things we can all agree on, death, taxes and your medical problems.

Thanksgiving has become a mindless carnival of gluttony where I pile my plate higher and higher with genetically engineered food, then sink into a stupor on the couch, watching yet another football game drag our system of higher education further into the gutter.

I say if it ain’t fixed, don’t break it.

Thanksgiving is about knowing when you got it good and if it ain’t that good, it’s still good enough.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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