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Columnist: Do you truly know the meaning of Thanksgiving?

By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

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Do you ever wonder why we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States? Are you particularly thankful for something this year? Considering the tragedy that recently took place in France and the many imperfections which are evident in our country, aren’t you glad you live in America?

Most people truly do not know the actual origin of Thanksgiving. The stage for Thanksgiving, of course, was in fact, set in motion in 1621. This was when the pilgrims — after having a very good harvest and thankful that they had made it to the New World and were actually surviving and prospering — decided to have a harvest festival and a day of thanks.

Indians were invited and were present on that day to participate in the celebration. The original Thanksgiving therefore, was not as much of a religious day as it was a festival of Thanksgiving.

That was in 1621. The first Thanksgiving did not lead to a traditional holiday and certainly not to a national one, since the United States didn’t exactly exist. A real Thanksgiving was actually celebrated just after the Revolutionary War. It still, however, was not a national holiday.

You know what? It was actually Abraham Lincoln, as president, who in 1863 declared the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. That is when it finally became a national holiday.

It was Congress in 1941, who “set the national holiday” of Thanksgiving as being authorized on the fourth Thursday of every November.

Now that you have that bit of information, did you know that the actions of Congress reversed an earlier decision by President Roosevelt to celebrate Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November, to give people more time to shop for Christmas.

Now you genuinely know how Thanksgiving became a national holiday.

The Thanksgiving season is always a special time for me. In 1987, during Thanksgiving, my mother made a prophetic comment that she would probably not be alive for the next celebration of the holiday.

There were about 30 family members and friends who heard her utter these words and teased her by saying that she will probably live to be more than 100 years old. We had a beautiful Thanksgiving that year.

All the trappings for the occasion were served. I was my mother’s favorite child. She could not hide it and I have been teased to this day, by my remaining siblings that I did not get disciplined as much as the rest of the children. We really didn’t take our mother’s comments very seriously.

During the next year, however, in the first week of August, I began to feel restless and uneasy. I had premonitions and dreams that my mother was ill and I would awaken from sleep in a fetal position with my hands clasped as in prayer.

I gave into my feelings and called my mother. She told me that she was in fact, not feeling very well, especially during the day hours.

I immediately demanded that she seek medical attention. She agreed and I took her to a local doctor for a series of medical tests.

After the tests were over, the doctor asked her to return to his office in three days for more tests. She did not live to keep the medical appointment.

I talked to my mother by telephone the evening she would make her final transition to be with God. While talking with her, some of her friends arrived to visit, and she asked me to call back later in the evening.

Within an hour after our conversation my phone rang. It was a relative shouting that my mother had become critically ill and was rushed to the hospital. I immediately gathered my children and headed to LaGrange.

That drive to LaGrange will forever be captured in my memory. The moon that evening was full and lit the night in a manner, that in an uncanny way, was like driving during the daylight.

I prayed the entire drive to LaGrange, asking God to spare my mother’s life. When I arrived at the hospital I did not see any relatives in sight. For a brief moment, I said to myself that maybe, just maybe, my mother must be okay.

I quickly ran over to the emergency room attendant and asked for my mother’s room number. With a puzzled expression on her face, the attendant struggled to tell me that my mother had passed.

That night changed me forever. I suddenly realized the importance of life the night of her death. It hit me in my incredible sadness: she really will not be with us for Thanksgiving.

That was in 1988. What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving? I am thankful to have been born to E.F. and Ernestine Dowell — the greatest parents any child could call Mom and Daddy.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at glenn.dowell@gmail.com.