Thursday, November 29, 2012

Our Pilgrim Fathers: How did it come to this?

Just a note after the prior Thanksgiving blog - I think there is a lot of evidence that the Pilgrims really did get along with the local tribes in Plymouth, near Cape Cod. But the problems were baked in from the start. For one thing, agreements in those days were very personal and had to do with individuals deciding how they would live together. When those individuals passed on, the next generations did not always see things in the same way. In the contact between a group of people who lived by written charters and bowed to distant rule (even if they didn't want to and had left to get away from it) and with another group of indigenous people who saw things from an ancient perspective with long-standing rights, you were inevitably going to get friction. But the Plymouth colony enjoyed good relations with the native population for about fifty years until all hell broke loose. The rest became the miserable history of double-dealing and outright genocide. The original set-up made the surviving Pilgrims (only half made it to the first Thanksgiving) heirs to ploughed lands which a people decimated by European diseases had left them. How did they get the diseases? Well, the Pilgrims weren't the first white people with whom they had come into contact. Fishing crews had been in the area for more than a century, many from the more Latin parts of Europe. They just never settled there, only traded. But in that contact they brought such scourges as smallpox and maybe TB (which had become for them a chronic disease but which for the nonresistant Indians moved like wildfire and killed in weeks not years). It was not deliberate infection in those days - after all the fisherman would not have wanted to kill their trading partners who brought them necessary supplies in exchange for their catch. The sinister stuff was yet to come, and the first Thanksgiving was most likely amicable on both sides. It was in the grandchildren's generation that the wars broke out (notably King Philip's War, named for the grandson of the Thanksgiving sachem or tribal leader), exacerbated by competition among European countries like France, Holland and England, each trying to control the region of the first colonies.

My memory of Thanksgiving is different than Frugal Sister's to some extent. "Family drinking" never included our mother or later our stepmother. But eight years can make a difference in the traditions observed, particularly when there is a parental split. I don't put on rose colored glasses, but what I do recall is that my father always took charge of Thanksgiving. He was the Mayflower descendant of the two parents, but he was also a neat and efficient sort of worker who later employed those skills in creating a very successful business. He had a flair for organization and paced himself so that we always had a nice dinner by around three in the afternoon, the earliest we ever ate. I also remember that when he and my mother were married, he never drank at home. That's my contribution to the memories. We actually have a record of them in a family movie made into a DVD, from the early sixties when Frugal Sister was a tot. It's pretty Norman Rockwell, with extended family present (his sister and her daughter). So that's my contribution to the feast.

No comments:

Post a Comment