Column: This Is Not Just Another Thanksgiving Essay

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For the Valley News
Published: 11/18/2017 8:00:42 PM

If you think that I am going to take the seasonal way out and spend this column giving you a bunch of dewey-eyed reasons why I am thankful to be in the Upper Valley, think again. I will not dwell herein on the usual tripe about how local residents have a deep reverence for “community” in all its forms. Certainly, I won’t bother suggesting that if the world needed proof of the power of the Golden Rule, the world could do worse than look at the towns nestled in the Connecticut River Valley.

Some soft-hearted simpleton might tell you about the quiet contentment he gets from being able to let his kids run free in local stores because he can count on the shopkeepers and other customers intercepting them before they cause a catastrophe, returning the children to their owner with a kind smile.

Luckily, you are not dealing with a soft-hearted simpleton.

An intellectually bankrupt fellow could waste precious column inches lauding the physical attributes of the area, the same geological miracles that recently prompted a non-native friend of mine to ask if I ever took the geographic beauty of Vermont for granted, which I answered in the negative.

If I lacked imagination and creativity, I could share that I am epically grateful to have my sons’ paternal grandparents nearby, where they help our family with everything from child care to lawn furniture and chocolate chip cookies.

Does anyone need to hear me muse on why I am grateful to live in a place where downhill and nordic skiing, swimming, adult hockey leagues, field sports, mountain and road biking, hiking and cribbage nights are never more than a few miles from one’s house? Surely not.

Oftentimes, as November progresses, I see a nitwit in my mind’s eye who points out a cute and whimsical reality, like how he is thankful to have children young enough that he can cut their grilled cheese in half directly on their plate, which leaves a million crumbs, which inevitably coat the cherry tomatoes or carrot sticks or apple slices on the dish, which would disqualify the nitwit permanently from restaurant work, but, with kids, the culinary shoddiness is actually awesome in their eyes.

I would find it hard to live with myself if I squandered your valuable time asking you to pause during this season to reflect on how strong and dynamic a community needs to be to create an environment where people post invitations to open discussions about social responsibility; warnings about bears; and information about exercise classes to support a humane society on electronic listservs without fear of the digital beatdowns that invade every other corner of the planet.

Wouldn’t it be appalling if I trotted out that hoary bromide “at least I have my health”?

Were I a nincompoop — which I am not — I could drone on about how grateful I am to live in a place where people from different socioeconomic, cultural, educational and geographic backgrounds manage to coexist with a sense of peace and harmony that, frankly, seems to elude great swaths of humanity.

This space feels like a clumsy and misguided vehicle to ask parents to contemplate putting a monetary value on what it means to be part of a community with so many coaches for their children’s sports that the athlete/coach ratio approaches 1:1.

Predictable saps might train their gauzy gratitude on the seasonal events that happen locally— the Tunbridge Fair, the Dartmouth Homecoming bonfire, the various Turkey Trots around the region — and point out that, while the events are undeniably enjoyable while they are happening, the true value of them is that they weave a tapestry of our collective lives, giving us a moral foundation in the process that makes us sympa- and empathetic citizens in a complex and complicated world.

You are probably relieved that I am not a predictable sap.

If my name were That Guy, I would point out that one could, conceivably, appreciate that one lives within a 30-minute drive of the only National Historical Park and National Historic Site in Vermont or New Hampshire, namely Marsh-Billings in Woodstock and Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, respectively.

Obviously, most every school district in the country has active PTOs that make staff and faculty appreciation lunches, like they do in my hometown of Norwich, or provide healthy snacks for students every Wednesday in January, like they do at the Hanover Street School in Lebanon, so there is no need to carry on about that here.

In my experience, counting your blessings is about as productive as counting your armpit hairs, so it would never occur to me to shove a laundry list of positive attributes of this part of the world — population heavily invested in volunteering, rare frowns, free concerts on area greens, genuine right-of-way for pedestrians, civil political discourse, artisanal ice cream — in your face.

You and I, we don’t need to ponder what really matters to us in a deep manner. Like you, I prefer the selfish, superficial, me-first things about Thanksgiving. So, this year, I am thankful for crisp skin, abundant stuffing, gravy without lumps, white and dark meat cooked correctly, no salad, and abundant wine of every color, with bubbles and without.

If I have room left over, I suppose I might give a small nod of grudging respect and recognition to all that other stuff, too.

Mark Lilienthal lives in Norwich. He can be reached at

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