It’s that time of year when people get into arguments not so much about politics and football rivalries, but about who first celebrated Thanksgiving – the Pilgrims in 1621 at Plymouth in what would become Massachusetts, or English settlers in 1619 at Berkeley Hundred on the James River here in Virginia?
But rather than bickering, it’s probably better simply to remember the unifying purpose of this national celebration, which wasn’t granted the status of a national holiday until 1863. That’s when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it such – symbolically unifying North and South. (He was apparently prompted to do so by a crusading newspaper editor from New England, where each state had its own Thanksgiving celebration on varying dates.)
The animating principle of Thanksgiving remains, of course, to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. For us here in rural Rappahannock, that is not mere abstraction but understood in very concrete, soil-under-the-fingernails ways. Also worthy of thinking about, and giving thanks for, are those little things we here in Rappahannock often take for granted, but which make life here uniquely blessed:
The smell of freshly mowed hay driving through Massies Corner with the windows down.
The red-tailed hawks perched along the highways watchfully waiting for prey.
The “babbling brook” of the Thornton always within earshot of Sperryville residents and visitors.
The sporting life on festive display every spring at Ben Venue and Thornton Hill.
The summer sounds of frogs and katydids at twilight.
The continental rifting of 50 million years ago that created the land now known as Rappahannock.
The county’s volunteer fire departments and rescue squads.
Teachers who care.
Sunrise from Mary’s Rock. Sunset anywhere there’s a view of the Blue Ridge (that means virtually everywhere in the county).
The few sheriff’s deputies who don’t issue tickets for going five miles over the speed limit.
No stoplights, no big-box retailers, no fast-food chains.
That the land here was first settled by Cavaliers, not Puritans.