Since childhood, I have been something of a connoisseur of presidential Thanksgiving proclamations. Come to think of it, one of the first pieces I ever published was on these proclamations throughout history. Lincoln’s were the best, really — that doesn’t surprise you to hear. And Wilson’s were superb too — that doesn’t surprise you either.
If you’d like to see GWB’s for this year, go here. It’s just right: brief, graceful, idealistic. It touches mystic chords of memory. (Hey, how’d that phrase come to me?) I have given you the link, but let me do a little quoting anyway:
“Americans are a grateful people, ever mindful of the many ways we have been blessed.” True. At least historically true. But does it continue to be true? Or is American gratitude — for America — a thing of the past, a relic, sort of like canasta, or butter-churning?
More of the president’s proclamation: “On Thanksgiving Day, we lift our hearts in gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy, the people we love, and the gifts of our prosperous land.”
“Our country was founded by men and women who realized their dependence on God and were humbled by His providence and grace.” True, true. “The early explorers and settlers who arrived in this land gave thanks for God’s protection and for the extraordinary natural abundance they found.” So very true.
More: “We recall the great privilege it is to live in a land where freedom is the right of every person and where all can pursue their dreams.” Isn’t it nice to be reminded of that? Indeed, to “recall”?
“We express our deep appreciation for the sacrifices of the honorable men and women in uniform who defend liberty. As they work to advance the cause of freedom, our Nation keeps these brave individuals and their families in our thoughts, and we pray for their safe return.”
Yes. And a couple more sentences, please: “While Thanksgiving is a time to gather in a spirit of gratitude with family, friends, and neighbors, it is also an opportunity to serve others and to share our blessings with those in need. By answering the universal call to love a neighbor as we want to be loved ourselves, we make our Nation a more hopeful and caring place.”
That is perfect. And I’ll have a little more on Thanksgiving before this column is out.
‐In Monday’s Impromptus, I published a reader letter on hateful bumper stickers. Our reader said she had seen a sticker that said, “So Many Right-wing Christians, So Few Lions.”
She commented, “I have lived most of my life in this area” — Seattle, as it happens — “but I’m still sometimes surprised at how supposedly tolerant liberals here have no hesitation in saying the most hateful things.”
My own comment was, “One never quite gets used to it, does one?”
Well, check out this letter, received after that column was published:
On my way to work this morning, I was following a van with this “tolerant” bumper sticker: “Jesus loves me, but I make him wear a condom.”
Sorry for the vulgarity of it. I have just been steaming about it for a solid hour. And I gotta say something: I can hardly wait for the first time I’m stuck behind that van while my precious eight-year-old daughter is riding shotgun.
The reader signed himself as living in “enemy-occupied Madison, Wis.” Is there something about living in left-wing communities and these nasty, hateful bumper stickers? I mean, is it simply a cost, of living in these communities?
As you know, I grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and these stickers were a dime a dozen. You just accepted them, like mosquitoes (but you had no zapper). Indeed, such hatefulness was one of the reasons — a big reason — I turned, politically, so long ago.
I wonder: Are there equivalent right-wing stickers, in right-wing communities? I never see them, and I never hear about them. Then again, I strain to recall ever being in a right-wing community. Maybe I should get out more . . .
In any case, America can be a very nasty, coarse, inhospitable place to live. Rah-rah as we are — especially at Thanksgiving time! — we should not kid ourselves.
Let me share one more letter, of a different character:
I wanted to draw your attention to a bumper sticker that I saw yesterday, reading: “Draft Republicans.”
What with the throngs of protesters and “activists” who routinely descend on my hometown of Washington, D.C., I figured I had seen everything. However, as both a Republican and an Iraq vet, I could not help being insulted — more by the sheer arrogance of these people (it was obvious they had no military experience) than by anything else.
I guess I can take comfort in the sacrifices that those who choose to serve, regardless of individual political beliefs, make daily. Knowing how hard it is to be away from your family — particularly at this time of year — I would urge everyone to do a little something extra for our people overseas. You would not believe how much it is appreciated.
‐Mr. Whipple has died — which is to say, Dick Wilson, the British-born actor who played Mr. Whipple, the man in the Charmin commercials, passed away earlier this week. In the words of this obit, Mr. Whipple was the “uptight grocer” who begged customers, “Please, don’t squeeze the Charmin.”
That phrase certainly entered the language. Let me give you a memory: Years ago, I was in Preservation Hall (New Orleans), listening to the Olympia Brass Band. Or it may have been an ensemble billing itself as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Doesn’t really matter.
And the drummer was Andrew Jefferson, a sweet, whimsical old man, by the time I heard him. He had a habit of calling out certain phrases — in a gentle, wry way. The phrases made no sense, really, or related to nothing. They were just there — pleasant non sequiturs.
And during an extended solo — not his own — Mr. Jefferson happened to say, “Don’t squeeze the Charmin.” Broke us all up. Hard to say why.
Anyway . . .
‐Did I ever claim I didn’t write a peculiar column?
‐I was speaking of commercials. So . . . and now a word from our commercial sponsor:
‐We think of the abuse of maids and other domestic servants as a Saudi specialty. And so it is. But other countries get into the act too, unfortunately. The headline over this report is “Maid Abuse Under Scrutiny in Lebanon.”
I’ve often wondered why such people — Filipinos et al. — go to work in such countries. And the only answer I can think of is: Conditions at home are so desperate, it’s worth it.
Alternatively, they are ignorant of what has gone on before. Or they think it won’t happen to them — that they’ll get lucky, find some benevolent employer.
In any case, this is a maddening and sickening phenomenon of our time — of all times, probably.
‐Please have some music. For a review of the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra, under Charles Dutoit, with Martha Argerich, piano soloist, go here. And for a couple of CD reviews, go here. These pieces were published in the New York Sun.
And those CDs come from Danielle de Niese, a soprano, and Virgil Moorefield, a composer. May I quote you a bit of the Moorefield review? I do this because you know that this column likes — that I like — to jab my hometown, every now and then.
Virgil Moorefield is an American composer born in 1956. His new album is “Things You Must Do to Get to Heaven” (on the Innova label). This is also the title of the opening and predominant work.
In four movements — any of which can be a standalone piece, too — “‘Things’ as a whole explores psychological space.” That’s the composer talking, in his liner notes. The work is “a meditation on mortality from the standpoint of individual consciousness.” And “attempts at transcendence are made, with varying degrees of success.”
I’m afraid I don’t really understand Mr. Moorefield in these sentences. Later, he uses the word “comprovisational.” I don’t understand that, either. Maybe his students at the University of Michigan do. Frankly, it may help to be stoned, which should not be a problem in Ann Arbor. (I speak as a native.)
While I’m at it, may I give you what I intended to be the ending of the Verbier review?
A funny footnote: At some point in the Berlioz [the Symphonie fantastique], a water bottle came rolling by me. [This was in Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center.] Down the aisle it went, maybe 50 yards, perfectly in the center — as though charted by an Olympian. Extraordinary.
And it was.
‐Couple weeks back, I mentioned in this column the possibility — the remote possibility — of doing an offbeat book: on ice-cream parlors, milkshakes, and the like.
That prompted a fair amount of mail, and I’d like to share with you something fun:
If you do such a book, you should include the “nutritional information” from a local shop here in Madison, Wis. (Yes, there’s at least one NRO reader here in the People’s Republic of Madison.) [As we know, there are at least two! See above.] Here is the “nutritional information” in its entirety:
“Don’t even ask. This is the best ice cream made in Wisconsin, and it tastes so good because it has gobs of rich Wisconsin cream, tons of real ingredients for boat-loads of luscious flavors. That means it’s not low-fat, low-calorie or low-anything, and that’s why everyone loves it. You want nutrition, eat carrots.”
Refreshing honesty, don’t you think?
I do indeed. And that reminds me of an old line: My favorite vegetable is carrot cake. (Just kidding, Mom.)
‐Couple days ago, I received a note from Jian-li Yang, about Thanksgiving — a thankful note. You know Jian-li: He is the incredibly brave Chinese scholar and democracy activist who came to the U.S. in the 1980s. This August, he returned to this land after five years in PRC prisons. (I wrote about this at length in the October 8 NR.) He will spend Thanksgiving with his wife and two children.
You also know René Montes de Oca. I have written about him many times, since the beginning of this decade. He is an incredibly brave Cuban democracy and human-rights leader. He has been in and out of prisons. At the moment, he is out. And a mutual friend of ours had a long conversation with him. I will tell you about that, in a later column.
But for now let me say that, in this conversation, he quoted and leaned on Joshua 1:9: “I command you: be firm and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go.”
I am grateful for René, and for all like him.
And I’m grateful for you, Impromptus readers. “Pardon my mush,” as Ira Gershwin once wrote. Have the happiest of Thanksgivings. See you next week.