Thursday, November 22, 2007

Yes, it's Turkey Day! Tryptophan-tastic! I swear to all calendar lords, this is the longest day of the year. Mostly because Mrs. Ditchman gets me up pre-dawn to run our annual 5K Turkey Trot which, loathe as I am to admit it, is one of the highlights of the year. It really starts the holiday off on a high note, fends off the guilt of the day's added calories, and gives you conversational bragging rights amongst the family. Of course, we've been doing it for years, so now it's expected of us. Unfortunately, this fact altogether diminishes any anticipated rewards, however deserved.

And then we take to the highway to meet up with the clan. It's about a hundred miles, but worth it ever since Michael Medved started doing his annual Thanksgiving lecture which we thoroughly enjoy. (We time the drive for this.) The family, all 600 of us, (or whatever it is) has a gay old time eating and drinking, playing vids. We cook multiple turkeys. The last few years it's been a nicely baked one and a nicely fried one, which my brother-in-law cooks in a vat of peanut oil out back in the sandbox. They're both tasty. I always do the prayer, for reasons that no one addresses but everyone is aware of, and I have slowly grown to resent it, though not entirely. My Thanksgiving prayer gets less and less profound every year, and I regret it. I need to work on this about myself, because I have only grown to enjoy the holiday and find myself increasingly grateful for the Lord's blessings year after year. I should just shut up and hold the post.

In my spare time (joking, I have none) I've been working on my family genealogy. This time of year I'm always pulling the photos together for archiving and year-end display, and it gets me thinking about my ancestors and who were they and why am I here and can I blame them for all this sh!t -and I get a little sucked in to Ancestry.com. It's worth getting a trial membership for a month and building your family line, as their resources are becoming ever more vast and the new program practically does all the work for you. Your family tree can also be open to others online, and you may find that it can be connected to other members who have already been working out their trees. It happened to me. I began to put a few names in, noticed that my aunt on my mother's side had an account, linked mine to hers, and suddenly I had 15,000 people on the tree! It blew my mind a little. She's pretty into it as a hobby (obsession, really) and has flown across the country taking pictures of gravestones and meeting long lost distant relatives. She even had my uncle submit his DNA to be analyzed and found that he is a direct descendant of someone who actually fought in the American Revolution! (On our side, I might add.) This qualifies me to be a "Son of the American Revolution", which entitles me to little more than bragging rights. The holidays can be depressing. I'll take all the bragging rights I can get.

My father's side is another story, as it always is, and as I've mentioned here before. Little is known about his ancestors, except that they all came from England. England is known for its vast repository of birth and marriage records, as age-old monarchies are known to have, but I haven't figured out how to gain access to it, as an American. Still, I've been able to find a few things. My grandfather came to America with his mother and father when he was only 3. I found a copy of the ship's manifest in the Dept. of Records at the Ellis Island website, of all places. My great-grandfather is right there at the top of the page. It lists his occupation as a "blacksmith" and says he had $50 in his pocket. He was 31.

I can't imagine it. Picking up my child and my wife and boarding a ship one sunny morning, leaving everything for another country. Here's a picture of the St. Louis, the ship they left Southampton, England on:

(Must've been a foggy morning.)

Perhaps I can't imagine it because I can't imagine a country so great that it would compel me to leave everything behind to go live there. This was in an age before cars, before television, before all the Great Wars. The only thing they had going for them was word-of-mouth, scattered news reports, maybe one or two pictures of the statue of liberty, and sheer hope. The manifest states they were going to meet "Walter Hawkins" who lived in Brooklyn. I've never heard of him. I imagine he wrote his brother a few letters that read something like: "This place is good and safe. There is work here. Come on ahead. Bring your family." And so went the Hawkins to America.

It's what made this country great. Because when you think about it, everyone who ever moved here took a big risk. We are, most of us Americans, descended from ballsy men of courage. These men had little more than a wing and a prayer. They had their family. They had the guts to say, "We're going somewhere else. And when we get there, if we find that it is not a better place, we will make it so."

And so they did. No other country can claim this.

And for that, I am grateful.