By Forest Riggs
The long days of summer have faded, and the calendar is slowly creeping into fall and winter.
The Island enjoyed a fun-filled summer complete with ArtWalks, festivals, tourists, and outdoor activities. Now that the Halloween candy has been handed out and the black and orange decorations have been taken down, it’s time to enjoy a cool winter and the fun that comes with it.
Early November sees the annual Lone Star Rally roar ashore the first weekend in November (back after the pandemic caused a cancellation last year) and is expected to bring thousands of bikers and visitors to Galvetraz. The loud revving engines, street vendors, and live music venues create great excitement on The Island.
Galveston loves festivals and celebrations; they always promise a good time for locals and visitors. The first weekend in December will see the return of the Historic Foundation’s annual Victorian celebration, as Dickens on the Strand returns for a few days of costumes, merriment, and top-notch entertainment. Absent last year due to Covid-19 precautions, Dickens is very much anticipated this year by all. Pints of ale, Scotch Eggs, Queen Victoria, Beef Eaters, and colorful parades will once again line the downtown streets.
With November, comes Thanksgiving — a favorite American holiday that seems to draw folks together and generate warm and nostalgic feelings. Since the early beginnings of the country and with the help of indigenous peoples, settlers and their generations of offspring have gathered around tables to give thanks for the goodness and blessings that have come during the previous year. In most settings, turkey, ham, stuffing (dressin’) delicious pies, and a rich assortment of gastronomic concoctions fill tables across the country. Thanksgiving is a “warm and cozy” holiday for almost everyone and, in most cities and communities, a huge effort is made to feed those that are less fortunate. Food banks, volunteer groups, churches, community organizations, and even bars offer feasts and potluck dinners.
Thankful (adjective): Pleased and relieved. Expressing gratitude and relief. Conscious of benefit received. Well pleased. Expressive of thanks. —Oxford English Dictionary
Galveston residents, like so many others, have a long list of things for which to give thanks. The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season came and went with little-to-no problems. There was some high water and strong winds but, once again, the tiny bar island in the Gulf was spared.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit The Island hard; however, the citizens followed guidelines and regulations, lined up to be vaccinated, and, thus, staved off what could have been a much worse situation with a greater loss of lives. Though not out of the woods, efforts to bridle the beast and move forward continue.
The mere fact that festivals and events have returned to The Island is a good sign. When the grid crashed and freezing temperatures crippled The Island, Galvestonians stood strong, united, and pressed on through the several days of no heat, power, or water. Most residents lost beautiful plants, trees, and shrubs to the extended, below-freezing temps. After weeks and sometimes months of waiting, shoots of life began to spring back and plants thought to have been lost, came back! After many months, the cruise ships came back to their docks on Harbor Side. A welcome sign and a strong indicator that tourism and business were back to stay. The list could go on and on. Suffice it to say that we islanders are thankful for the positives that grew from year’s negative factors.
Memories and a hard lesson
When I think of Thanksgiving and reflect on past gatherings with friends, family, and others, I get a warm feeling inside and my heart smiles. There have been some wonderful feasts and gatherings here on Galveston. I have enjoyed many wonderful friendships that seem even more special around Thanksgiving.
In 1968, when I was a young boy, I experienced a very eventful Thanksgiving. That year I learned a valuable lesson that has stayed with me all these years. My mother and grandmother taught me this lesson though not in a way that I wanted or could appreciate at the time.
We lived out in the country and I had a pen full of pet turkeys. I loved getting off the yellow school bus, meeting my golden retriever Sam and running down the red dirt road to our house. Sam would jump at me, and we would leap in the air. The school was out for a week, and it was Thanksgiving. The family would come, and food and treats of all sorts would be piled around the kitchen and everyone would be in a happy mood.
In those days, classrooms had a “room mother.” The designee was in charge of class holiday parties, PTA events, birthday celebrations, and the annual “canned-good drive for the needy.” That year (my fourth grade), my mother was elected room mother. She loved this honor and had done it before for my brother and sister. Though not challenging, it did require a good deal of effort and coordination. My mother enjoyed interacting with the teacher and other mothers, as well as with my classmates.
Starting in early November, a box was placed in the classroom, and students were asked to bring non-perishable food items to be given to families in the rural community that might not be able to afford the usual festive Thanksgiving meal. It was fun to watch the box filled with cans, bags, and boxes of donated food items. That year, we had to use several large boxes.
I loved my turkeys and would sit just outside their pen and call to them. I could imitate them very well and always they would respond with a resounding “gobble.” To a 10-year-old boy, it was magical and thrilling to gobble at them and get a similar response. My grandmother said I was a good little “turkey talker.”
On that last day of school and when I exited the bus and ran toward to turkeys, with Sam running at my side and barking, my world collapsed. The scene that I approached, froze me dead in my tracks. There inside the pen was my mother and hatchet-wielding grandmother, slaughtering all my friends. I screamed and shouted, “No! Stop, you are killing them!” Blood and feathers were all around the ground. Amid the mess stood Carrie Nation, holding her bloody hatchet.
I turned and ran as fast as I could, crying tears that blinded me. After a short distance, I fell to the sandy ground and wept. Sam was trying to lick my face, but I keep it buried in my arms. Suddenly, I felt my mother on me. I turned and shouted, “I hate you!” Mother held up a handful of bloody feathers and exclaimed, “Baby, you can make an Indian bonnet!” I tore loose from her and ran like a wounded deer. I turned and shouted, “Murderer! You killed my friends!”
Days later and still in a sullen mood, I rode with my mother to deliver the food baskets to the needy. As we pulled into a yard or driveway, I would duck down into the floorboard of the back seat for fear of being seen or embarrassing one of my classmates.
There on the floorboard I saw in each box we delivered a fresh turkey, all dressed and ready to roast.
That year, albeit a horrible experience, I learned that sometimes we have to sacrifice things that we love in order to help others. It was a hard lesson. My mother and grandmother explained to me the reason for the killing of my turkeys and the joy that each would bring to some family gathered for their Thanksgiving meal. It offered some comfort.
I did not eat turkey that year, nor for many years to come. It took a while.
Wherever you gather, or however you celebrate, give thanks for what you have and the blessings you’ve received, though often disguised, that have come your way.