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Greene: Thanksgiving Tree

11/23/11 5:55PM By Stephanie Greene
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(Host) Commentator Stephanie Greene doesn’t recall exactly how the tradition started. It may have been inspired by one of those upbeat parenting articles about instilling gratitude in one’s children. But it didn’t turn out quite as expected.

(Greene) About fifteen years ago, I made our first Thanksgiving tree. With colored paper, I cut out the trunk of a tree, put it on the wall, and then cut out some simple oval leaves in many colors.

The idea was to write something you were thankful for and stick it onto the tree. The result would be a family awash in good feelings, mindful of the many blessings we enjoyed.

It worked, sort of. My children were small - and eager, with a little coaxing, to fill the tree up.

There were, admittedly, a couple years in which I detected a full blown competition between them, as the tree became impossibly full of scribbled leaves. I explained that this wasn’t quite in the spirit of the celebration, and pressed on.

My husband had to be tactfully cornered, the leaf and marker proffered. Not that he isn’t grateful - he may be the most mindful of us all. The activity just smacked a little too much of Romper Room for his taste. And he's nothing if not independent. I don’t blame him, and didn’t then.

The next year, after the usual strong-arming and eye rolling, I began to notice some deviation from the Plan as I read the posts. Among the expected entries extolling the virtues of the dog, or a favorite toy, there were cryptic leaves, whose meanings I could only guess at. And some were not in childish writing.

One was particularly vexing. What could “Dry nuggets” possibly mean? Was it a comment on my cooking? I confronted my husband.

At the time, we had a somewhat bad tempered, elderly cat, named Itty. Unfortunately, she was also incontinent. And my husband was celebrating the fact that her leavings were like pebbles, a snap to clean up. I couldn’t fault him. After all, he was giving thanks. But this opened the floodgates.

Irony seeped into our yearly exercise in thanksgiving. Along with celebrating being together, or the thorough caulking job that made our house cozier, or finally getting off dial-up, there were random names of people we’d known - slightly - back in Massachusetts.

“Why are you grateful for the children’s librarian in Worcester?” I’d wonder – only to hear the culprit reply with sly innocence, “Oh, I dunno, I just am.” And what after all, could I say? The tide continued to rise.

The next year I saw a distinctly ungrateful sentiment: "I hope Ms X’s head falls off." One of my children had a less than sympathetic teacher, and he took the opportunity to vent. I left the leaf there, schooled enough in the healing passage of time to stop meddling. If he needed to unload, at least he could do it at home, and for once I wouldn’t edit or scold. I put up a leaf honoring free speech.

This year, we’ve made another Thanksgiving tree. I actually look forward to my little Donna Reed aspirations being foiled by my beloved, subversive family.
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