November 23, 2010

pilgrim inspiration

"John Alden and Priscilla" Staffordshire plate


I can't believe how fast fall has gone. I've been enjoying the changing trees, working on projects, and discovering what kinds of things need cleaning after you've been in the same house almost eight years (the longest in my adult life). And now Thanksgiving is upon us. And winter. A few days back, it just suddenly felt like winter, then last night we even had a little snow (early for here).

Every year as Thanksgiving approaches, my mind wanders to my Mayflower ancestors. I think about who they were and what their life was like in the New World. John Alden was hired as the barrel-maker for the Mayflower's voyage to America at about age 21. After the voyage, he was given the choice to stay in America, or return to England. He stayed, and became a prominent member of Plymouth Colony (and later helped found Duxbury). Priscilla Mullins was about 18 when she came with her parents and one brother (two older siblings stayed in England). That first winter was more harsh than they were used to, and many pilgrims died of illness. Priscilla was left the only surviving member of her family in America. A few years, later John and Priscilla were married. Note that "The Courtship of Miles Standish" by Longfellow, while a good read, is more fiction than fact. But I can't help but wonder if John stayed because of the adventure, or if he already had his eye on Priscilla, or both. And I wonder if she was already taken with the young man who took care of their valuable supplies on the ship.

I think about how brave they were. How they crossed a vast ocean to a wild, untamed land that was unknown to most just a few hundred years before. How sad and lonely (and frightening) it must have been for Priscilla to lose her family that first winter. I am so proud of them. I would like to be that brave and tough.

As I celebrate Thanksgiving each year, I feel like I am connecting to my heritage, and it takes on another layer of meaning. In our modern culture, Thanksgiving seems to be about gorging on food and little else, and is otherwise lost between the commercialism of Halloween and Christmas. I just want some cozy, relaxed time to reflect, enjoy my family, and give thanks to God. And yes, as I think about how rough my Mayflower ancestors had it, my list of things to be thankful for gets a little longer!

What special meaning or memories does Thanksgiving hold for you? Or, what immigration stories from your family do you cherish?



If you'd like to learn more about the Mayflower pilgrims or the first Thanksgiving, Caleb Johnson's Mayflower History is a great resource.

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