Anne Horrigan Geary: A month for giving thanks

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DALTON — November is the month when we turn our thoughts to two different groups of individuals who sacrificed much for a cause. Veterans left all they cherished to protect us all. Some never returned; some returned broken; all returned changed. For their courage and selflessness, we are ever respectful, thankful, and grateful.

Veterans and their service span the ages, from the American Revolution to the current conflicts. When they leave the service, most are honored for a job well done and receive the benefits due them. Returning to civilian life is not always easy, and more and more services are available to those in need. We need look no further than the Soldier On organization, founded right here in the Berkshires, to understand how veterans can be helped to lead productive lives. We are deeply grateful for all the assistance provided to veterans.

When the Veterans Day remembrances are complete, most of us turn our thoughts to the next holiday on the November calendar, Thanksgiving. For most, it is a time of family, friendship, and feasting. After the turkey, pies and football games, most people turn their attention to shopping for the next holiday.

Before we lose our minds, and most of our disposable income, to Black Friday mania, let us pause to remember the sacrifices of another group of people who left everything behind to find a better life. These original immigrants were fleeing from persecution, as so many modern immigrants are, and they hired a boat and set sail across a mostly uncharted ocean, headed for a totally unknown future.

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After a wretched voyage, which saw many sicken and die, they reached a sandy beach far north of where they were headed. It's near what we now know as Provincetown on Cape Cod. They — unlike future generations — didn't like what they saw, fearing the desolate sandy shore would not support a homestead.

Back in the boat they went, and navigated a little farther west to a large, protected harbor with a big rock, and called it Plymouth. No parade or well-wishers greeted them as they tumbled ashore and tried to make the best of a cold, damp wilderness.

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Luckily for them, they were soon visited by the People of the First Light, the Native Americans who had inhabited the area for generations. Though wary at first of these strangers, the Pilgrims soon learned to accept and appreciate what the natives could teach them about survival in the New World.

Plimouth Plantation, just outside the modern town of Plymouth, recreates in superb detail the ways of the 1600s. Without spending a few hours there, being indoctrinated by the staff of reenactors, it is hard to image what life was like for the newcomers for those first few years.

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Little by little, they became accustomed to the land, built dwellings, learned to till the fields, hunt in the forests, and fish the waters for food. As a God-fearing people, they were inclined to offer thanks to their lord and protector as a regular feature of their days.

The event we call the First Thanksgiving was a far cry from what we enjoy, but I'm sure no subsequent gathering was more truly thankful for what they had received. By the time of the elaborate, multi-day feast, where Native Americans and Pilgrims sat together and shared a plentiful harvest, the colony was well-established and well organized.

Many students of genealogy can trace their roots to these original settlers. There is even an established organization of Mayflower Descendants (honoring the name of the ship). Even if we are not directly related, we all owe a deep debt of gratitude to these first settlers, who risked everything for the chance to be free.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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