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Shannon Bryan

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Posted: November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving? Thank Sarah Josepha Hale. And Abe.

Written by: Shannon Bryan

On Thursday, thank yous will be generously passed around the Thanksgiving table like so many bowls of made-from-scratch stuffing. Appreciation will pile up like white meat on a serving platter. Gratitude will spill forth like gravy from the “fancy” gravy boat that mom uses only on special occasions and I’m always terrified of breaking.

We might thank Butterball for supplying us with a twenty pounder that has its feathers and noggin already removed so we just don’t have to mess with that stuff. We might thank the potatoes for being so easily mashed and for getting along so well with the butter. We’ll definitely thank the wine for making family time so warm and fuzzy — and sometimes slightly double visioned.

But in the haze of gratefulness — between the cranberry sauce shaped like a can and the pumpkin pie that whisks you off to slumbertown — we ought to give a shout-out to Sarah Josepha Hale.

Hale, an American writer and editor, is the author of a little poem called “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” You might have heard of it. She’s also the reason that Thanksgiving was finally able to attain a celebration’s highest and most respectable status: National Holiday.

Hale spent 17 years writing letters to five consecutive presidents, beseeching each to give Thanksgiving its due and make it a day-off-from-work celebration across the country. The folks in New England were already celebrating it annually, though the states couldn’t agree on a day, and the celebration was unheard of in the South.

Hale believed the national holiday would help unify a post-Civil-War country. It seems she was privy to the calming, kindness-engendering effects of turkey breast. Luckily Abraham Lincoln also saw the light and wrote up a presidential proclamation, and in 1863 Thanksgiving was had all over the country.

So thank you Sarah Josepha Hale. And thank you Abe Lincoln, for listening to Sarah Josepha Hale.

And thank you Mary Anderson, noble inventor of the windshield wiper blade, for keeping travelers safe as they drive to reunite with relatives.

Thank you William Cullen, inventor of the first artificial refrigerator, for sustaining freshness and giving us a place to put the beer.

Thank you Ralph Wiley for discovering polyvinylidene chloride, which later became Saran Wrap. Your efforts help with the leftovers and also come in handy when we want to screw with a sibling and Saran Wrap his car.

Thank you Robert Adler, inventor of the wireless remote control, for letting us stay where we are, barley conscious and immobile on a worn leather recliner.

Thank you Samuel Guthrie for discovering chloroform and giving us something to think about over dinner, should things take a turn for the worse.

Thank you Josephine Cochrane, inventor of the dishwasher, for the help cleaning up, even though people sometimes tumble into open dishwashers and get impaled on the silverware.

Thank you Felix Hoffmann, inventor of Aspirin, for helping us deal with the aftereffects of Aunt Carol.

Thank you Gerhard Fischer, inventor of the hand-held metal detector, for giving Grandpa something to do.

Thank you Earl W. Bascom, inventor of rodeo chaps, because now the world has rodeo chaps.

And thank you John Harington, inventor of the flush toilet, for everything.

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