Citizen-Times, 11/2013

Thanksgiving isn’t a habit common to modern people– not with a lower-case T, anyway.

In my grandparents’ generation and before, people were thankful for what life brought them. They didn’t have much and didn’t expect much.

We do. We expect. We take life and life’s goodness for granted. We aren’t prone to thanksgiving – until, that is, something happens that makes us thankful.

It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and we were putt-putting along I-20 in our 1974 Volkswagen bus. We were approaching Rayville, Louisiana.

Rayville. What a blessed place to blow an oil seal.

The first Rayville citizens we met were in a pickup that pulled alongside us. They were shouting and waving wildly for us to pull over. On the shoulder, while one wiped the oil from their windshield, the other told us about Buddy Rhoten’s truck stop in Rayville. He got a chain from his truck bed, and they towed us there and left before we could thank them.

Next, the bright kid at Buddy’s cash register.   He listened to my story and called the boss. It was Sunday afternoon, and the Saints were playing Minnesota on TV, but Buddy Rhoten came.

He was a huge man with neat, black sideburns and a black cowboy hat. He walked straight over to me: “They tell me your VW died. Let’s go look at it.”

He called a mechanic friend and took us to the bus station. My wife and kids had school the next day. Buddy gave us a chunk of his day but refused any payment.

At the ticket counter, my credit card was refused, and my check was out-of-town. Enter Mrs. Chipley. “When I heard your conversation at the counter, I knew I was supposed to help,” she said as she paid for our tickets with her local check. She took my questionable check in exchange.

Thanks to Rayville people, we celebrated thanksgiving that year.

So why aren’t modern people inclined to be thankful anymore? Rayville is a clue.

Our world is insulated. We don’t want other people’s problems, and we don’t let them have ours. We fight any vulnerability that might need somebody’s – or Somebody’s – help.

Also, I think the more advanced a culture becomes, the more its people tend to think and not thank. There’s a cause for every effect. Remarkable children are the product of genetics and our good upbringing.   Good health comes from good habits.   Why complicate the formula and make things spooky? Why?   Because spooky is probably true.   Ask any Alcoholics Anonymous person about his Higher Power.

Thanksgiving is a good habit for us all remembering those who’ve helped us: parents, mentors, spouse, kids. If they’re alive, thanking them in person; if they’re dead, in spirit.