Sarah Josepha Hale, Mother of Thanksgiving

This year marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation establishing the 4th Thursday in November as the official National Day of Thanksgiving, a move he hoped would help “heal the wounds of the nation” following the War Between the States.

In a conversation last week, I stated my desire for our own Thanksgiving to include expressions of gratitude for our blessings. Someone very dear to me responded with a comment about the supposedly wrong ideas we’ve been taught about the pilgrims, Indians, and the first Thanksgiving. None of us were there to observe what happened then. But we can’t deny that from the very beginning of European settlement in this country, Americans have paused to thank God when he has led us through times of crisis.

During the American Revolution, Continental Congress issued a number of proclamations setting aside days for thanksgiving following some major battles of the war. When George Washington was inaugurated as first president, he proclaimed a national day of thanks for both the end of the war and the ratification of the new U.S. Constitution. John Adams and James Madison issued similar proclamations during their presidencies. Thomas Jefferson feared that doing so would interfere with the separation of church and state, so no formal proclamations were issued after 1815.
However, most states continued to celebrate a Thanksgiving holiday, although not all on the same day.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a well known writer, editor and crusader for women’s issues, edited the influential magazine, “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” for over 40 years. She wrote pieces urging the establishment of a national day of thanks on the last Thursday in November. She believed the holiday would be a unifying measure that could help the growing divisions between North and South. She continued to advance the cause throughout the Civil War, and when the war ended, President Lincoln asked Secretary of State William Seward to draft such a proclamation. The President issued the proclamation in the fall of 1863.

At the age of 72, after 3 decades of lobbying, Sarah Josepha Hale (and the United States of America) had her national holiday. She is sometimes called the “Mother of Thanksgiving” because of her tireless efforts.

Both President Lincoln and Sarah Hale believed that people who realize their dependence upon God are the people God blesses. As we gather to celebrate this Thanksgiving Day, let’s remember to be grateful for our forebears’ sacrifices and for the blessings God continues to shower upon us.

Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

Best Catch Ever

   Guest blogger Jim Nash and his family are commercial salmon fishermen who fish in Bristol Bay, Alaska, in the summer. He teaches high school in Stanwood the rest of the year. He shares his photos and this story about his BEST CATCH EVER:

The Kudos has an estimated 3000 pounds of fish aboard as it continues to haul in the net, preparing for another set.

Jim Nash with Joan Biggar Husby

  The radio crackled to life. “I’ve propped the net,” the crew heard group member Everett gasp.

  Jim Nash groaned. Propping one’s net is never a good thing for a fisherman. Backing the propeller into the net can ruin the net, the propeller, and sometimes the entire day of fishing.

  “The wind’s blowing the boat into the shallows and I’m almost in the surf!” Everett sounded desperate as well as chilled to the bone. And no wonder. He’d gone over the back of the boat in nothing but his underwear, trying to cut the net loose in the forty-five-degree water.

  Jim grabbed the mike. “The soonest we can have the net in the boat is twenty minutes. Where are you?”

  Everett gave his position, less than five miles away.

  Jim had spent many summers as a commercial salmon fisherman in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Regardless of the success or failure of the season, one reason he kept fishing was the relationship he had with his radio group, comprised of the captains and crews of six or seven boats. They fished in the same general area and shared information with each other.

  If one group member found fish, he’d radio the others on a scrambled frequency that no one else could decipher. He’d tell them which direction the fish were heading, or if he found no fish, he might say, “No luck here.” Or he might radio, “This area’s already crowded with boats. Try someplace else.” He might give tips on how best to set the nets in order to make the catch.

Many of the fishing operations in Alaska are family operated. This picture of the Kudos, one of Jim’s boats, has Phil (Jim’s son-inlaw) on the bridge, Spencer Nash (nephew), holding the little king salmon; Shea Nash (son), and Necia (daughter) in the stern. You can tell by the bouys dragging in the water that the boat is nearing being full (12,000-15,000 pounds).

  The purpose of a radio group was to help everyone catch more fish. It was assumed that all members maintained their boats and equipment well. If one was in trouble or needed a part, the others would help out, but that seldom was necessary.

  That year, Everett, a likable man in his 30s, had joined their group. Everett’s family had fished out of Kodiak for some time, but Jim had never fished with him before.

  Everett’s problem was his ancient “woodie,” a craft from the era just after sailboats and before aluminum or fiberglass boats. All he could afford, it barely held together. The fittings and gaskets leaked, fouling the diesel engine and making it smoke. The crotchety transmission balked at shifting into neutral. As a result, Everett often called for help. Usually, it was urgent.

  One day Jim had found a great spot for fishing. He hauled in a net full of thrashing salmon and set it again. Corks jerked on the surface as fish swam into the deep part of the net, announcing their arrival with exuberant splash and dance. Fishermen live for times like this!

  Then he heard Everett on the radio. He had a problem. Could someone help? Jim stared at his radio. If he went to help Everett, it could cost him thousands of dollars in lost fishing time. “There’s got to be someone closer than me,” he muttered.

  Jim picked up the microphone and held it, waiting, until he heard Dick, his older brother, say, “I’m pulling my net, Everett. I’m on my way.”

  Dick was like that. Not a selfish bone in his body.

  Relieved, Jim put the microphone back on its clip. God elbowed him hard. He knew in his gut that what he had done was not right. “Don’t worry about the money,” he felt God say. “Remember, all these fish belong to me.”

  “God, you’re right. Of course, you’re in charge. Next time Everett needs help, I’ll be there.”

  The very next day Everett called to say he’d propped the net. “We’ll be right there,” Jim responded. The crew got their net out of the water and on board in record time. As the end buoy bounced over the stern roller and into the boat, Jim pushed the engine to full throttle and turned toward the coordinates Everett had given him.

  Soon they saw his boat, a small dot just outside the surf line in an area similar to a place called “Dead Man Sands.” Years before, an unexpected storm had blown part of the fleet onto those sands miles off shore, too far away to swim to safety. All hands were lost. It looked as if Everett was about to do the same thing–ground on a bar, with the actual shore nothing but a thin gray suggestion in the distance. Jim flipped on the radio. “Hang on, Everett. We’re almost there.”

  “I think I’ll be okay, Jim,” he responded breathlessly. “I dived overboard again and cut most of the line from the prop. I think I can get my net in now.”

  “That’s great,” Jim told him. “We’ll be standing by if you need assistance.”

  Now what? Jim looked at his chart of the Nushagak fishing district. It showed sand bars, channels, and water depths. He realized they were in an area they’d never fished before. With a fingertip, he traced one deep channel surrounded by shallows near the mouth of the Igushik River. “Hmm,” he said out loud. Sometimes fish school up along deep channels before moving into rivers to spawn. “Let’s give it a try,” he told his crew.

  They set the net across the channel and the net filled with salmon. Of more than 150 times they’d already set the net that season, this set out in the middle of nowhere with no boats in view other than Everett’s a mile away, turned out to be the best of the year. Jim had been worried about the money he’d forfeit by helping Everett. But the Lord hadn’t given him his dependable boat just to catch fish and make money. He could feel God smiling as the lesson sank in. The boat was his to use for God’s purposes. God was perfectly able to take care of the rest.

On F/V Seaquill in Bristol Bay Alaska. (Necia and Taylor) This was a good day.

Let’s Celebrate Thanksgiving

Norman Rockwell…Freedom From Want

    This year, we were dismayed to find Christmas merchandise and decorations going up in a number of stores, even while their shelves still overflowed with Halloween “stuff.” Did you notice? Some stores even played Christmas music. Now, with Thanksgiving only two weeks away, you’d hardly know the beloved November holiday is still important to most Americans.

    It seems we are being whipped into a spending frenzy even before the Thanksgiving turkey has a chance to cool. The “attitude of gratitude” that ought to prepare the way for a thoughtful, thankful celebration of Christ’s birth is being replaced with a frantic culture of greed and “have to do’s.”

    Well, I’m trying hard to keep priorities straight in spite of all that, and I know that many of my readers are doing the same. The music of the season can help us. Here’s a familiar old hymn, often sung at Thanksgiving time, both at family meals and at religious services. Maybe you’d like to add the song to your celebration this year.

We Gather Together…Theodore Baker, 1894

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

  “We Gather Together” was first written in 1597 by Adrianus Valerius to celebrate the Dutch victory over Spanish forces in a war of national liberation. Under the Spanish king, Dutch Protestants had been forbidden to gather for worship.

  The modern English text was written in 1984 by Theodore Baker, and first appeared in an American hymnal in 1903. By World War I, Americans could see themselves in the hymn, and even more so during World War II, when “the wicked oppressing” were understood to include Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. I love that the lyrics of this song are particularly appropriate because we’ve just celebrated Veterans’ Day and the freedoms we enjoy because of their sacrifices.

In Flanders Fields

Lt. Col. John McCrae

While having lunch at our favorite Silvana restaurant the other day, we picked up the Java Jabber, the entertainment and advertising folder found on the tables of many local eating places. Instead of the usual humorous items, this issue’s front page featured the classic poem, In Flanders Fields, written during World War I.

Hank had me copy it on a napkin (the only writing paper available at the moment).  It’s Hank’s self-appointed task to share one-liners or jokes for the amusement of our fitness class. This morning, in honor of Veteran’s Day, he read the poem, and there were tears:

In Flanders Fields
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918), Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high. 

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Lt. Col. John McCrae was a medical doctor with the Canadian Army during the terrible battle in the Ypres Salient in the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium (Flanders), early in 1915.

In military language, a salient is a part of the battlefield that projects into enemy territory. The troops occupying the salient are surrounded by the enemy (n this case the Germans) on three sides, making them particularly vulnerable. This piece of real estate was the location of five battles of Ypres, some of the biggest battles of World War I, fought over the period from 1914 until the Germans were pushed back for good in 1918.

During these battles, Britain, France, Canada, and Belgian armies combined their defensive efforts against the German incursions and it was here that trench warfare began in the mostly flat salient as both sides “dug in” around the line. The Second Battle of Ypres in 1915 saw the first use of poison gas and terrible injuries and loss of life,

Lt. Col. McCrae, a surgeon attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, had spent seventeen straight days treating injured men: Canadians, British, Indians, French, and Germans, while the battle raged around him. The screams, blood, and suffering were hellish and impossible to get used to. One death particularly affected McCrae. A young friend and former student had been blown apart in a shell burst. McCrae had helped to gather the body parts and bury them in a cemetery outside McCrae’s dressing station. Then, because of the chaplain’s absence, he performed the funeral ceremony.
The next day, McCrae sat down to rest on the back of an ambulance parked near his duty station. He watched the breeze toss the wild poppies growing in the nearby cemetery, and he began to scribble the lines of a poem in his notebook.

A young soldier was delivering mail that day when he spotted McCrae. He watched quietly as McCrae wrote. The doctor’s eyes strayed to his friend’s grave now and then, but he went on writing. Five minutes later, he put down his pencil. He took his mail from the soldier, Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson, and without a word, handed his notebook to the young man. Allinson was moved by what he read. “The poem was exactly an exact description of the scene in front of us both,” he later wrote.

McCrae also showed the poem to a nurse he worked with, Clare Gass of Nova Scotia. She copied the words into her diary and urged him to offer it for publication. Perhaps it was her encouragement that resulted in its publication in the English paper, Punch.

Generations of school children have memorized the poem. It carries a powerful message as we remember our military service people this Veteran’s Day. There is a torch for us to hold high.