Accounts of the origin of Thanksgiving differ. At best, it was a gracious gesture of mutual respect between Pilgrims and Native Americans. At worst, a cynical cover for the eventual subjugation of the land’s original inhabitants.
A recently-discovered document, recounting a discussion between a Pilgrim (P) and a Native American (NA) suggests a more innocent beginning:
NA: How what?
P: No “what,” just “How,” as I understood your traditional greeting to be.
NA: Hmmm. No, that is not what we normally say upon first meeting. But this is very curious.
NA: Just now, I seemed to envisage a situation in which future generations of my people would be portrayed as using that as a greeting, and also raising a hand, palm outward, as you did. Why did you do that, as well?
P: We understand it to be a sign of peaceful intent among your people. We are sensitive to your ways.
NA: That is appreciated, but, no, that too is not our custom, although one can see that it could be a non-threatening gesture, the position of the hand making it difficult to reach suddenly into the waistband or pocket for a knife.
P: So, what should I say and do in these circumstances?
NA: A simple nod is appropriate.
P: I will certainly keep all this in mind. But, permit me to ask, where did you learn such perfect English? Did you study in my country?
NA: No, you may be thinking of Tisquantum, whom you call Squanto, but, in all honesty, his English is rather rudimentary. I, on the other hand, learned my English from my father, who learned it from his, and so on in a chain that goes back to the Vikings, who preceded you by some centuries.
P: To the Vikings?!?! They were here?!?! My God! But didn’t they speak Nordic or something like that?
NA: Of course, but also perfect English. I’m not certain where they learned it. Perhaps in their numerous forays into your homeland. In any case, everyone knows that Nordics speak better English than the English do.
P: Well, if you speak the English you inherited from them, I’d have to agree.
NA: In any case, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?
P: It is about the squash …
NA: The game in a room, with a ball?
P: No, I don’t think that’s been invented yet, but it is an interesting idea. No, it’s about the vegetable. Much of our first crop has either withered on the vine or simply rotted before it could ripen. Could you help?
NA: I would be happy to. Why don’t we repair to my abode where we can share a distilled libation and discuss your agricultural problem.
P: Yes, certainly … firewater in your tent.
NA: My heavens, what a narrow conception you have of how we live. I would wager that our distillations in the comfort of a log structure such as mine would at least match the beer and ale found in your drafty public houses.
P: I would not doubt it.
(Note: At this point, there is an interruption in the document. This may be accounted for by drinking superseding conversation, which eventually resumes.)
NA: Well, that is all we have in the house. We should resume our dialect … I mean dialogue … when we are better able to focus.
P: Excellent idea. And maybe then we can talk squash … the vegetable.
NA: Better yet, let us then eat some as well. And turkey!
P: Ah yes, a frank discussion.
NA: No, not talk it. Eat it. The bird, that is.
P: A bird? Really? What does it look like?
NA: Well, it’s quite large. Think of it as a cross between a goose and a chicken, but more delicious!
P: Ah, now that you mention it, I’ve seen them at a distance. An excellent idea, eating turkey and squash. Thanks!
NA: Giving is its own reward! Ha ha, I like that!
NA: We have joined “Thanks” to “Giving.” An appropriate combination!
P: Indeed. But, realistically, we two could not possibly eat all you propose. Should we not invite others to share in this … this … shall we call it Thanksgiving?
NA: Yes, we shall! And, yes, we should not be selfish. Still, we should not promise more than we can deliver. I’m thinking …