Today is Thanksgiving in the United States, and although it is not celebrated in the country where I live (except in my house and possibly a few others) it got me thinking… What is something when I was studying in the United States that I am particularly grateful for?
I was living in Waltham, Massachusetts, and studying at a university in Cambridge. About every second Saturday or so I would go to a nearby hall where two women I had met would be tidying up the hall. Their names were Claire and Bernadette. We would have a coffee and a donut. They both worked in a factory that made secret parts for some highly classified military machinery. What the parts were for they were never told. Massachusetts is full of factories like that where people make parts off a blueprint and they don’t know what the parts are or what they are for.
The summer break was approaching. Apart from taking a couple of summer papers, the rest of the summer was free. To be honest I was a poor student. I wasn’t intending to go anywhere but that hadn’t stopped me from looking at the map!
During one coffee Claire and Bernadette asked me, “Where are you going for the summer?” Not wishing to say I would be staying in my little room in Waltham I said, “I am thinking of going to Arizona.”
“And we’re paying for it!” declared Claire. “Provided one thing; provided we can do the planning. We’re not able to travel ourselves so it would be a thrill for us to plan the adventure.”
They explained what they did. There was no coffee facility at the plant they worked in. Bernadette and Claire provided coffee, sugar, and cream. People had their own mugs. There was a tin there for workers to drop in a coin. There were hundreds of people working in the factory. Claire and Bernadette had a policy: any money made they would not spend it on themselves, but spend it on other people, and that would give them a thrill! I didn’t agree to taking their offer at first, but I quietly asked around and everyone said the same thing, “Goodness me! Can those two afford it or what!” So I accepted their kind offer and were to meet them at the hall the following Saturday.
Well! They had maps. They had airline tickets. They had a rental car. They had vouchers for motels.
“We’ve marked on the map places of interest, but do what you want and go where you want! And here’s an envelope with some pocket money.”
When I got home I opened the envelope and there was $2000 in cash.
I set out. It was 115°F when I got off the plane in Phoenix. I loved every minute of my stay. I went everywhere from the Grand Canyon to Tucson. Quite my favourite bit was the Sonora Desert. My biggest thrill was in Walnut Canyon where I saw my first hummingbird! I saw, some quite by accident, snakes and scorpions and road runners and coyotes and ancient ruins and barrel cacti and… goodness! Every moment was pure magic! The saddest bit (and this is true) I stepped out of the car to take a photo of the road sign that said POISONOUS SNAKES AND INSECTS INHABIT THE AREA and I trod on a tarantula and squashed it.
When I got back to Waltham I had hardly spent a dime. I went to give the money back to Claire and Bernadette.
“Don’t be silly,” they said. “Go to New York! Go to Washington DC!”
So I did!
There were many instances of people’s generosity in my time as a student in Boston: the young man who about once a month would call with a can of Fosters beer to share because he didn’t know the difference between New Zealand and Australia (and I never let on); the man who called and said we’re going for a drive and took me to a shop where he bought me the warmest winter coat there was; the lady who sewed Christmas decorations to send home to my mother; the couple who lent me their holiday home at a lake for a week; the Native American at the lake who let me use his traditional canoe every day! People’s generosity knew no bounds! When I finished my time there the locals had a farewell evening, in which they all sang the New Zealand national anthem that they had secretly learnt!
What I learnt in America wasn’t so much in my studies at university, but in simply living there. They taught me to be generous. In my opinion, of all the nations in the world, the people of the United States would be the ones who best would know how to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving.
And that is why we celebrate American Thanksgiving in the place I live. HAPPY THANKSGIVING to one and all!
At the White House