No other country has a holiday for giving thanks, the radio announcer said. While most NPR people are well informed, I was sure the guy didn’t know what he was talking about.

I had lived in Canada, which observes Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. So, I looked it up. Turns out seven other countries have observances of thanks: China, Liberia, Germany (for the fall harvest), Japan (Labor Thanksgiving Day), South Korea (to thank ancestors), Vietnam (for the harvest and harmonious unions) and Grenada.

Every Thanksgiving, I mull the blessings of my life, my reasons to give thanks.

WERU-FM (Blue Hill) once requested nominations for the greatest living American. When the announcer read the name I had offered, Wendell Berry, he cut off nominations. There is no greater American, he said. Reading “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture,” Berry’s seminal book, I felt a tug in my genes. That tug was the farm roots of my mother’s family. I went on to farm for 35 years. For Wendell Berry I give thanks.

As a city boy (Columbia, Missouri; New York; Kansas City; Nashville; Montreal) moving in 1977 to a rural house near a new job in Allentown, Pennsylvania, changed my life. Reading Wendell Berry when I got home from the night shift put me in a country frame of mind. Now, in a tiny town in Maine, I have much for which to be thankful.

Tracy Boivin’s restaurant serves 12 meals a week. I take two or three meals there every week. The food is quite good, company is excellent, and I can get what I order just as I order it, with or without cheese, with or without toast, etc. And, I know within a minute what kind of day Tracy is having. For Tracy I give thanks.

While convenience stores not long ago were closing at the rate of one a day, two survive in New Sharon, Douin’s Market and Sandy River Farm Supply. They offer hardware, gas, food, everything you want in a country store. For our stores I give thanks.

Josh Pitcher’s tire service is the go-to clinic for tire users in all kinds of vehicle. I have seen pulp trucks parked there at 6 a.m., waiting for Josh to open. One Saturday, he sent a road man to Brunswick, where I was selling at a farmers market, so I could drive home on tires he installed to replace two that had blown. For Josh and his crew I give thanks.

We service our cars at Greg’s Auto. Greg found and fixed the problem with our Subaru Forester’s “check engine” light. The garage from which we had bought it couldn’t find the tiny leak in the vacuum system. Greg is retiring in five weeks, but the shop will continue, and I will continue to take my car there. For Greg and Nick I give thanks.

There’s a higher value in these small businesses, too. Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University, wrote last week in the New York Times that corporate consolidation is one condition that makes fascism possible. Nazi Germany had a few huge corporations, and they and Adolph Hitler had a parallel goal. Control. Among Germany’s Nazi-friendly corporations were Krupp Industries, Bayer, Siemens, BASF, Volkswagen, Deutsche Bank. None is clearly Nazi today, but all benefited under Hitler. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called this the “curse of bigness.” Government is not our bulwark against them — Nazi Germany was an alliance of government and huge corporations — but small business is. For every entrepreneur I give thanks.

“The only thing that’s still volunteer is when you sign up,” a former fire chief told me about the state’s mandates for volunteer firefighters. At one point, our fire company had only 11 firefighters. Today it is much stronger, and when I had an urgent chimney call, the chief was right there. It’s all fine now. For our fire department I give thanks.

Forty years ago, five friends in Waterville went crazy. Ken Eisen, Leah Girardin, Alan Sanborn, Gail Chase and Stu Silverstein started Railroad Square Cinema. It shows independent films, three or more a week. When I worked at the Sentinel, Marilyn and our sons often came over for supper and a movie together. After the boys grew up, RR2 was Marilyn’s and my date night, and since she died it is my spot for double-features. As more people watch movies on screens too tiny to tell a story, RR2 still shows the best movies, and the best insights into life. For the Railroad Square five I give thanks.

Last winter, I drove south to see a former professor and two basketball games. At Stony Brook University, health-studies students were promoting women’s cancer awareness and detection. As I passed the table, I wished them well in persuading women to be vigilant. I told the young woman that my wife had died of ovarian cancer eight months earlier. “You look like you could use a hug,” she said, asking permission. I said, “Sure,” and she came around the table and put a bear hug on me. For that young woman who could see pain I give thanks.

Sixty years ago, I was a white boy living in Harlem, near the Apollo Theater, a landmark for black America. In five years as an Anglophone in French-speaking Montreal, strangers addressed me only twice in French. How did they know that I was an Anglophone, a tete-carre (square head)? Add two years in Tennessee as a “Yankee,” two years in Pennsylvania as someone “from over the ridge” and 38 years and counting as a flatlander in Maine. These years as a minority have given me a deep appreciation of the richness of our diversity. For our land of many people and many cultures I give thanks.

My late wife worked for the Kansas City Royals in 1969, their first year, as an assistant in the publicity department. I saw the first Royals game and 50 or more after that. After we moved to Montreal, I never attended another Royals game. Until this year, when my fiancee took me to Fenway Park to see the Royals play the Red Sox on a rainy 34-degree night. The Sox won and sparked some interest in me, but deep down, I remain Royals loyal. My blood still runs Royals blue. KC wins the World Series, on average, every 30 years. For the Royals publicity assistant and for my fiancee I give thanks.

Bob Neal is thankful to have been able to raise turkeys for 30 years. He is just as grateful now to be done with turkey growing.


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