Count Your BlessingsOn November 24, 2021 by Elyse
After a whirlwind year, we’re fast approaching yet another holiday season that’s not quite normal. But one thing that hasn’t changed? Documents from the 19th and 20th centuries continue to be a cornucopia of 21st-century Thanksgiving blog post fodder. (Most especially those from Chicago’s renowned Newberry Library, to which I’m exceedingly grateful for digitizing, transcribing and highlighting the below letters through its crowdsourced transcription project.)
This year, Second Glance History has something for everyone to be grateful for, whether you’re dreading the arrival of obnoxious relatives or missing the comforts of home. For starters, grab some cornbread, and look on the bright side: I can almost guarantee that these people had a worse Thanksgiving than you will.
You have all/most/some of your teeth.
At least she ate turkey first:
[A]fter I’d helped eat the Thanksgiving Turkey I went up to town and had my teeth extracted! Twenty one all right out at once. I took three doses of chloroform however before the dentist got them all out. I didn’t know anything about it till it was all over. . .
‘Tis quite the fashion to have false teeth here (lucky for us) most everybody wears them. We have a very superior dentist here. He makes splendid teeth! I expect I shall want to laugh all the time when I get my new ones. You know I always had miserable teeth. I guess this is enough about teeth.– Mary to Abby Reed Kendall, January 7, 1869
Yes, thank you, Mary. That’s quite enough about teeth.
You’re not flying in a plane called Poison.
Whatever mode of transportation you’re using this holiday season, I hope you’re riding in a more confidently named vehicle.
The only real thrill experience by Vegas as the result of the visit of the airplanes on Thanksgiving was a mishap to the small exhibition plane “Poison,” which left the ground and reached a height of about 75 feet. Then the motor stopped and Poison poked her nose into the ground with considerable force, doing some damage to the machine.
I’ll never complain about a boring Thanksgiving ever again.
Mr. C. O. Prest, owner and pilot of the plane, escaped with a slight shaking up. There were some skeptics who were sure that Poison would not fly.– The Las Vegas Age, November 27, 1920
I appreciate a good underdog story, but in this instance, perhaps Prest should’ve listened to the naysayers and stayed grounded. After all, it’s not as if police were chasing him.
You don’t have to wait an extra week for pie.
As you stuff your face with dessert tomorrow—no judgment, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing—spare a thought for the poor sugar addicts of Colchester:
Once, when the Governor of one of the colonies ordered a certain day for giving thanks the denizens of Colchester deferred their observance of such a day for a whole week, until the ship from New York arrived with the belated provisions that were to help set forth the baked meats for the feast. The principal piece of the cargo was a hogshead of molasses for the Colchester dames to make up into “pyes.”– The Bee, November 29, 1894
At least they had their priorities in order. As the New England Historical Society explains, the Great Colchester Molasses Shortage was very nearly a pie-less disaster.
Likewise, I’m politely declining an invitation to this couple’s Thanksgiving dinner:
A whole chapter in one of the colonial histories is devoted to the story of a man who on the day before Thanksgiving met with a mishap at the top of a high hill and dropped from his wagon the keg of Thanksgiving treacle [dark syrup made from partly refined sugar], which rolled down the hill, distributing its sweetness all along the route, much to the damage of his wife’s temper and his own discomfiture.– The Bee, November 29, 1894
At least the foliage on the hill had a sweet Thanksgiving.
You’re not too lonely or too sociable.
From not enough company to too much company, this Goldilocks can relate to whichever guests you’re complaining about this Thanksgiving.
Dear Jennie. . .
How did you spend your “Thanksgiving”? Shall I tell you how we did?
Ruth’s school was out for the day, and as I was not at the office—only from ten until two—Maria said she was going to have a nice dinner and so went to work and got it. But about noon Ma was not feeling quite as well (and you know that Annie takes all her meals in her room) we felt very lonesome and when we sat down to dinner no one had any appetite and in a minute or so she left the table without eating anything, and Maria declared she would never cook another Holiday dinner, for that it did not pay, for she had spent all the morning with her dinner and for no purpose.
In the afternoon & evening there was a good many called, but I did not enjoy them very much, (I detest formal calls don’t you). I hope you had a more pleasant time.– Fannie L. Ellis to Jane Everett, November 25, 1870
No matter how dry your turkey turns out, I’m wishing you teeth to chew it, enough sugar for several pies and just the right number of guests to enjoy them with. Happy Thanksgiving!
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