It fell that Thanksgiving to Mary Esther Pollard to prepare the feast. It would be a meal for 2,800.
Pollard had just the month before taken the job as dietitian at State Hospital No. 2 in St. Joseph. She led a team of 45 cooks and bakers and 70 or so other peelers, preparers and gofers.
At day’s end, the patients and employees would have their fill of baked goose, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans and mince pie. With this, they could give thanks for the bounty of 1934.
The cooking took place in five kitchens around the complex, the dishes then wheeled through the underground tunnels to the dining rooms.
Segregation ruled the arrangements, men fed apart from women, whites apart from blacks. Those unable to conduct themselves in group settings, described in a written account as “untidy,” got served separately.
Five years before, a stock market crash had ushered in the Great Depression. St. Joseph, in the middle of America, felt this upheaval.
Farming, a driving force in the Missouri economy, struggled against not only money pressures but natural ones. Banks went under, and with them went personal savings. Livestock rushed to market in 1933 deluged it and caused price declines.
With almost Old Testament impact, chinch bugs arrived in the state to destroy crops, and grasshoppers would invade in a subsequent year. NASA would later study weather patterns of the last 1,000 years and find the drought of 1934 to be the driest and most widespread of the millennium.
Lost hope would seem to be in order.
But an editorial in the St. Joseph News-Press on that Thanksgiving 85 years ago took issue with the doomsayers.
“Some of us who think we have little to be thankful for now were not very thankful when we had more material cause for it,” it read.
The fact remains, then and today, that the act of thanksgiving never arrives as misplaced. Anyone drawing breath on a particular day can take part, even as hard times might have arrived in other ways.
Not that human beings always make this easy. On Twitter the other day, I read a post from a person saying they had changed their home Wi-Fi password to include the word “impeach,” hoping to agitate right-leaning relatives visiting for the holidays.
As a passive-aggressive move, this certainly falls on the latter part of that spectrum. Plus, I can’t see how it might be useful, adding stress to a situation that should be devoted to family and gratitude.
Articles have appeared in recent days with advice for Thanksgiving hosts on how to keep gatherings, and especially the dinner hour, from turning into a cable-news hullabaloo.
These suggestions range from setting ground rules as guests enter the door to hiding the knives, a tricky policy when it comes to Turkey Day.
Hosts have a thousand things to sort through. It should not be necessary to equip them with a list of topic changers: When Uncle Loudmouth starts with the Nancy Pelosi smears, how about, “Have you seen that new Mr. Rogers movie?”
Lordy, grown humans should be able to read a room.
One piece even recommended declaring the host’s house as a “safe space,” a phrasal abomination for adults in Western culture.
Even in our highly divided society, has it really come to this?
Remember, this is a day with a purpose, a gathering nostalgic within most families. You sit with the ghosts of kinfolk past. Taking those few hours to leave behind politics will improve digestion.
And giving thanks never goes out of style.