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Keeping the Thanks in Thanksgiving

by Shawanda Greene

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With all the talk of Black Friday, it seems we skip right over Thanksgiving and shift our focus sharply to Christmas. We treat Thanksgiving like it’s the opening act for Black Friday.

Well, there’s no way I can forget about Thanksgiving. Every year, around this time, I get inexplicably teary eyed about once every other day. I cry tears of gratitude.

Many people don’t think this way, but I’ve never felt I deserve the life I have. It’s hard to put in words, so I hope you don’t misunderstand me. With all the suffering that goes on in this world, I can’t help but feel fortunate and extremely thankful that I, through no doing of my own, was born to a loving family in a free country.

Although I don’t have a relationship with my biological father, I thank God for my real dad who entered my life, to love me like his own, when I was only eight months old.

It may seem weird to some people, but every single year, as Thanksgiving approaches, the thoughts of my ancestors repeatedly enter my mind. When I was in the seventh grade, my history teacher assigned her students the task of creating a family tree. My grandmother died when I was two years old. Besides her sister, I really didn’t have access to anyone else who could shed some light on my lineage. When I asked my mama for help on crafting a family tree, she told me I wouldn’t be able to venture very far back into my family’s past.

Like my mother, I’ll be blunt. The assignment was difficult because I and my ancestors are black. With all the pesky slavery going on, keeping detailed records of family history likely proved either a low priority or an impossibility.

Upon completing the assignment, we were to present our findings to the class. After 15 years, I don’t remember ever reporting the results of my research. But strangely, I remember a classmate who created a timeline that stretched back to the 1600s. Mine abruptly stopped with my great great grandmother. It was the least developed family tree in my entire class. I felt ashamed. Like I was an incomplete person.

I no longer feel that way. Although slavery was no doubt horrendous, I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like if I was born in the land my ancestors originated from. For not having to endure those scary thoughts, I’m grateful.

You probably think I’m weird for reflecting on such a thing. That’s fine. Every year, around this time, I get teary eyed. I’m thankful for these tears.

Regardless of how strange, shallow, or ridiculous, what are you thankful for?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

WellHeeled November 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM

This is a really touching post. You're right – Thanksgiving should be a time to appreciate what you have and your family, and not treat it as the precursor to Black Friday.

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ctreit November 25, 2009 at 3:16 AM

Another great post! I don't have the same family history as you do, but I am grateful for pretty much the same things plus one other: I am very happy that I have a good partner with whom I have a very nice family.

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Jason_Dyalogues November 25, 2009 at 4:32 PM

Great post. Very few of us know anything conclusive about our ancestors past a few generations. And sometimes it can be a curse. A friend of mine found out recently that his family was involved in the Third Reich in Germany. In his case, not knowing anything about his family's past would have been a blessing. :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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TheyCallMeCheap November 26, 2009 at 5:10 AM

Well when you put it that way….

Guess I better make a positive impact on this world. Don't want those who come after me to respond with "meh" when they Google, or whatever, "Shawanda Greene."

But seriously, even if my ancestors were horrible people, it'd be nice to know their story. Oh well. What can you do?

BTW, Happy Thanksgiving to you too.

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Carla November 26, 2009 at 2:57 AM

I think I am in your boat. I cant go back very far either in my family tree.

My dad only met his father once when he was an adult and he died at the age of 42 (years before I was born)
My grandmother (paternal) passed away at 63 in and didnt know who her parents were.

That ends my dad's side of the family.

My grandmother (maternal) didn't know where her grandmother came from. She's from the Mediterranean and I have one photo of her. Her father was an orphan.

We dont have a large extended family and Steve's family (ENTIRE family) are his parents and sister. No cousins, nieces, uncles, grandparents (his parents are in their 80's). His grandparents are Eastern European Jews and migrated to the US when they were young – no ties there since their last names were changed at Ellis Island.

I think the only thing we can do is just be thankful for who/what we have.

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