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November 24, 2011

A Legacy of Thanks

Chris Cavey

In November of 1893 my great-grandparents moved into their new farmhouse surrounded by hickory trees and perched on a hill in northern Baltimore County. The newlywed's first meal in the just completed home was – Thanksgiving dinner. Our family – now 118 years later – still gathers to celebrate together.


Joseph and Della Armacost were a typical young farm couple of the day. They grew up less than a mile walk across the field from each other and attended the same church, which was a mile or so the other direction. Their marriage in 1893 was the first performed in a newly built brick church known as Grace. It was a marriage that united two of the largest families in the small rural community three miles east of Hampstead.


Thanksgiving dinner as a "first meal" in the new house was likely not by chance. Joe and Della were devout Christians who worshipped regularly and practiced their religion daily. The young couple had just inherited a 285-acre track from Joe's father. They then built a huge farmhouse, a barn and outbuildings prior to tying the knot. Even at age 23 and 20, respectively, they understood hard work and giving thanks to God for their bounty.


Although giving thanks is certainly not a new concept to humankind, and the idea of Thanksgiving dinner in some form had been celebrated since the Pilgrims and beyond, it was, however, a relatively new concept as a national celebration. It was only 30 years before Joe and Della's marriage when – at the height of the Civil War – President Abraham Lincoln issued an official proclamation of the holiday.


Just like the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving, issued by the Continental Congress in 1777, Mr. Lincoln gave humble thanks to Almighty God for the bounties of our then divided nation. This prayer-like proclamation was issued less than five months after the Battle of Gettysburg – it was a tough time in our history to be thankful, yet it was his prayer.


Today we as a nation seem to have morphed so far into the idea of political correctness that giving thanks to God for our bounty is approached with such trepidation that few acknowledge it still happens. We have tried our best by re-writing history to explain away our Founding Father's faith and religious beliefs to meet the politically correct desires of today's muddled society.


Our American history is a unique story of people who gathered to form a government and a country unlike any other. It is a tale of individuals who had deep convictions when it came to religion, freedom, courage and patriotism; they lived those values every day. We have no need to be ashamed or apologize for the acts of those who came before us. Their decisions were made in their time in history, not ours, and few can argue the overall benefits we have reaped as a nation from those convictions.


No one likes war, slavery or economic hardship. However, each of these tribulations has spawned learning experiences as lessons for future generations. We have no need to hide our historical path in the guise of political correctness. It was the convictions of those who went before us that made us great, and it will perhaps be the lack of conviction which will be our downfall.


Will my granddaughter's children one day apologize for my generation? Will they have such a holistically conformist, politically correct society that individual expressions of religion, the ambition of capitalism or the courage of today's patriots need to be rewritten in politically correct terms? Hopefully not, but it is the way our nation and society are trending.


Today is a national holiday which is deeper than huge turkey dinners with all the trimmings, football games watched from the couch and planning Black Friday shopping sprees. It is a day of thanks. The members of the Continental Congress knew it, as did Abraham Lincoln and those on Plymouth Plantation in 1621.


I've missed only two of the last 56 continuous Thanksgiving dinners the maternal side of my family has celebrated. Today about  60 of us will sit down to eat together – on real plates with real silverware – sharing two huge turkeys and many other dishes prepared, in bulk, to be shared by all.


We will give thanks to God for our family, our nation, those who went before us and for the gift of sharing such a bounty of food. There will be little-to-no political correctness, plenty of opinions on every subject and we will each look forward to the next time we are together.


I can't think of a better legacy or example for my grandchildren.


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