Still thankful the day after

I’m pretty cynical about the “true meaning” of most holidays, but I like the idea of Thanksgiving. A lot of people who share the Native American portion of my heritage don’t agree, but that’s mostly about some false notion that Thanksgiving is about Pilgrims and Indians.

Miscast as a Pilgrim as a kindergartener at Schiller School in Minneapolis in 1958

While there was most certainly a day of giving thanks by the Pilgrims in the fall of 1621 and another in the summer of 1623, those events were not particularly unusual or noteworthy. Harvest celebrations were common among many cultures, including native ones. The accounts I’ve read of what was said by people such as Robert Bradford and Edward Winslow included a lot of thanking of God, but barely a mention of the Indians who taught them how to farm in the New World and saved their asses those first couple of years. Shouldn’t they have been the ones to be thanked?

Tisquantum, or "Squanto", gave the Pilgrims a LOT of help during their first year in Massachusetts

Thanksgiving wasn’t really celebrated as a national holiday for about a century and a half after the Pilgrims. It certainly didn’t continue at all as a tradition among the Wampanoags of Massachusetts, because they all died, mostly of disease, within a few years of the Pilgrims’ arrival. I don’t hear too many giving thanks for that these days.


Some form of Thanksgiving holiday has generally existed in the U.S. since the Continental Congress made its first proclamation about it in 1777 — with no reference to the Pilgrims, by the way. For many decades, Thanksgiving was declared on a year-by-year basis by the President. It was often celebrated on different dates and in different ways by the various states. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln made some of the most famous proclamations of taking a day to celebrate thankfulness, but neither had anything to say about the Pilgrims, Plimouth, the native people, or anything of that time period. They were much more interested in being thankful for recent and future battlefield victories.

There was little consistency, however. For instance, President Jefferson never declared a Thanksgiving Day during his presidency. It wasn’t until FDR pushed for it to be a standardized date in the earl ’40s that what we now know as Thanksgiving Day really began to solidify as a tradition.

So as interested as I am in studying history and preserving the past, this day we in the U.S. set aside every November really is completely a reflection of whomever is celebrating it and what they choose to be thankful for at the present time. Most Americans acknowledge the day in some way, usually getting together with family and friends and sharing food.

That’s the part I really like — the way it goes across cultures and religions. Even though the Pilgrims were Christian, it’s not specifically about being Christian at all. Every culture in some way values thankfulness, gratefulness, gratitude — or at least appreciation — of life. It’s something we can all agree on.

Sometimes it's good to take a step back and think about what we're teaching our children.

As a teacher, I think making a big deal out of the Pilgrims and the “first Thanksgiving” is wrong on many levels, including perpetuating historical inaccuracies and disregarding similar celebrations and traditions of cultures other than 17th century separatist British Christians.

I’m thankful for a lot of things, the most important of which is having a great family and wonderful friends. Due to a set of circumstances that I won’t bore you with, I nearly had to spend Thanksgiving in a hospital bed this year with my family 80 miles away. The fact that it didn’t end up that way is much more a product of doctors and nurses doing their jobs very well during a busy and very personal time of the year than with any sort of special divine providence. If you think about the bigger picture, it’s also owed to the pursuit of science and reason through history — the courage of those people who have persistently sought truth in the face of opposition by religious dogmatists.

Resting comfortably and watching a documentary about John Lennon while the bag of good stuff drips into my arm. Life could be a lot worse than this.

An infection of the type I encountered is now fought with some bags of fluid dripping into a person’s arm. But for most of human history, it would have been a lot more serious. I did not have spirits that needed to be driven out as the Pilgrims might have thought. I had bacteria that needed to be neutralized by antibodies of a quantity and type that my body was not able to produce on its own.

For the scientists that developed these wonderful and powerful medicines, I am thankful.

For the doctors and nurses that treated me with kindness and attention on a couple of snowy days just before a big holiday, I am thankful.

For my friends at work who rallied and took the time to make sure my students and their substitute teacher had what they needed for a couple of days and then supported me with well-wishes and offers of more support, I am thankful.

For my family, who expressed disappointment at the possible prospect of not getting released for Thanksgiving and then showing me such love when I was able to make it to Rochester on Thursday, I am thankful.

Maya Powell gives advice to Kyle and Emily about their first Turkey in the new house.

Kyle talking to his parents on the phone. Lauren and Peet getting reacquainted.

But if I had needed to spend Thanksgiving day in the hospital, I would have been just as thankful, because of all of those people acting in such a human way toward not only me, but anyone else in the same situation.

Yesterday was a good day. Today is, too. Nobody knows about tomorrow yet.

For those of you for whom things aren’t going so well right now, my heart goes out to you. I hope I can help in some way.

It’s not about the Pilgrims, folks.

Dr. Cedermark was on call in case I needed any medical attention while in Rochester.

Shovelin’ it but not really diggin’ it

Is there a word that means both beautiful and foreboding?

I’ve lived in Minnesota all my life and to me, snow is no big deal. But I do see the beauty in it and I’m glad I live somewhere that has four distinct seasons, blah, blah, blah. Snow is nice to have around Christmas time and I don’t mind it too much for the first half of the winter, but on my ranking of favorite seasons, winter is still a solid #4 with no bullet.

First snow of the season (photo by Steve Date)

We got our first snow here in Minneapolis this morning and I was compelled to go out with my camera. I have a blog, after all, and this is the kind of day where people notice the beauty and reflect on . . . . whatever.

The old water tower looks good in any season (photo by Steve Date)

Almost anything you say or take a picture of about snow is a cliche. It’s all been said many times and in much more interesting ways than I ever could. I’ll admit, it was pretty this morning — a wet, heavy 3 inches (with 6 more to come by tonight). But because I was shooting photos, I didn’t wear gloves, so after 10 minutes my figures were numb. I didn’t wear boots, so my feet were soaked. The wind was blowing and the camera lens kept getting wet. So I walked around the block, shot a few pictures, said to myself, “Yup, sure is pretty out here”, and ducked back inside.

Now I have a few snow pictures that are about as good as the billion others that were taken by Minnesotans this morning.

It was in the high 60s and sunny just a few days ago, so I guess I’m not ready for this, even though a mid-November snowfall is not at all unusual. This one will melt, but it won’t be long before we get the one that stays with us until April.

There are those winter days in Minnesota where sky is deep blue, the air is clean and crisp and the snow stays fluffy and white. Today isn’t one of them. Today’s snow is wet, heavy and already starting to look dirty.

I’ll be out shoveling this afternoon, then getting the last couple of chairs and a hose into the garage and the pond pump out of the water.

I’ll leave my camera indoors.

That makes two of us

Lustron Lust

There’s something about the row of shiny metallic houses on the 5000 block of Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis that grabs me. I was driving by them yesterday and the afternoon sun bounced off one of them so brightly that I pulled the car over and shot a few photos.

Lustron house at 5027 Nicollet in Minneapolis (photo by Steve Date)

I think I like them because they cry out mid-20th century style. Even though I never lived in one or even remember seeing one of these pre-fab gems when I was a kid, they evoke familiar feelings from my childhood.

The American dream - no more painting, just put on your sunglasses and a nice dress and spray it off!

In a way, it’s the quintessential baby-boom house. Originally designed in 1947 and marketed to GIs returning from WWII, there were about 2,700 of these enameled steel beauties constructed nationwide between 1948 and 1950. It was hoped that this new low maintenance exterior — invented by Carl Strandlund of Chicago — would appeal to the modern, post-war family.

5021 Nicollet (photo by Steve Date)

There’s a great blog entry by Nokohaha that provides a lot of details about materials, different models, construction methods, etc. The Nokohaha author says there are 18 Lustrons in Minnesota, including 9 in south Minneapolis.

According to the Lustron Preservation Organization website, there are now only about 1,500 of these wonderfully odd little creatures left today. I’m glad somebody is trying to preserve them and I hope the few we have here in Minneapolis will continue to be cared for.

The Lustron houses on Nicollet Avenue are just a few blocks from where I live. I’ve always thought they were cool, and I knew a little about them, but hadn’t ever taken the time to learn more until one of them flashed me on Friday afternoon and I decided to take a picture. So even if this blog is entirely self-serving (which it is), it’s still worth doing, because it gives me reason to stop, look and learn about stuff that’s right under my nose.

Now if I can just get invited into one of them to look around . . . .

Now just about old enough to collect Social Security, this Lustron house looks as good as the day it was built. (photo by Steve Date)

We’ll always have October

I remember Harley, my father-in-law, when he was my age, saying, “I’m only middle-aged if I’m going to live to 115”. People my age — born in the ’50s — have to face the fact that we’re in the October of life — at best. But this is not entirely a bad thing, as October is a beautiful month.

The Twin Cities Marathon (Oct. 3) started on a sunny, 39 degree morning that was perfect for a 4+ hour run. The 2nd mile takes runners past the Walker Art Center and Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis (photo by Steve Date)

This year, we had 5 October weekends and in my part of the country, they were all spectacular. As part of my “Photo of the Day” project — now 7 months and counting — I made it a point to get outside on weekends and shoot some of the things I noticed. I’ve posted a lot of these photos to Flickr in a collection called “October Weekends“.

A biker heads toward the late afternoon sun on Minnehaha Parkway (photo by Steve Date)

But even on the nicest of October days, the mornings are cool, the shadows are long and the days are getting short. In Minnesota, we know winter is going to hit us soon, so on those bright, colorful days we need to get out there and take it all in.

You don't have to go far to find something nice to look at. (photo by Steve Date)

Time for a last round of golf or two before winter hits. Roger Buoen contemplates his approach shot on the 18th Green at Keller Golf Course in St. Paul (photo by Steve Date)

When I was thinking about being in the “October of life”, I started going to various websites to find out what my life expectancy actually was. I figured I could put a percentage-of-lifespan number on my life and then calculate where on the calendar of life I am. After becoming completely confused by the myriad of different numbers out there of how long people tend to live these days, I came to the realization that it’s not about that at all. Plus, it was a heck of a lot of research to do just to develop a metaphor.

The truth is, October can be a beautiful time. It can also be cold and miserable. I got out and enjoyed the beauty while it lasted. And now that October has passed and I’m tempted to complain about the passing of summer and fall, I only need to remind myself that I’m not guaranteed November or December.

Frost on Halloween morning (photo by Steve Date)

If you’d like to see more of my October Weekends photos, go to my Flickr page here.