Thanksgiving has many meanings — the depressing history of the European invasion, the obscenely unequal distribution of abundance, the sad fate of our feathered friends. This year, uplifted by recent kick-ass election results, we can take a cheerier view and actually use the holiday for giving thanks.
Are we not thankful for what looks like the restoration of democracy, the sudden possibility of saving our polar ice caps, and the renewed hope that marriage apartheid might actually end in our lifetime — without having to move to Massachusetts or New Jersey? Or South Africa?
When I’m in gratitude mode, I reflect on how thankful I am for hospitality and the kindness of strangers. I came of age in the welcoming and woman-empowering lesbian zeitgeist of the ’70s, a time when the “Sisters Pick Up Sisters” bumper sticker made the highways safer for young hitchhikers like me. Occasionally, a carload of women responded to my roadside thumb-in-the air, but most of my rides were provided by well-behaved men — their civility, at least in part, inspired by the presence of my dog, Golda My-Ear.
Golda, a yellow lab-shepherd mix, was my constant companion. I got her before I came out and relied on her for confidence and protection all through my transition out of mandatory heterosexuality. Even before I’d discovered the welcoming arms of lesbians, having Golda along allowed me to get out on my own.
Golda and I hitchhiked everywhere. In the 16 years of Golda’s life, we logged several thousand miles and I was never hassled, unless you call a drunk in a Camaro with his pants unzipped inviting me to “hop in” a hassle.
Golda was a great dog. Mostly.
But she was driven by instinct. The only upside of her occasional out-of-control behavior was that it helped me appreciate hospitality and the kindness of strangers.
One rare blue-sky November afternoon, I was hitching out the McKenzie highway and enjoying my freedom. Some river freaks in a VW bus picked us up. It would be cool, they said, if my dog and I wanted to come with them to visit some friends of friends. Sounded fun.
Turned out they lived on a remote little farm and were throwing a harvest party. What they harvested I’ll leave to your imagination, but let’s just say that while I was getting to know these generous country folks, I lost track of a few things. Like time. And my dog.
When someone suggested we go for a hike I suddenly noticed my sidekick was missing. We all bundled up and headed off to retrieve my so-called best friend. But she didn’t come, despite the whistles and calls of half a dozen stoners tromping around in the woods.
It was almost dark when she finally turned up, happy tail wagging, mouth drenched blood red, and dragging an unmistakably dead turkey.
“Oh, shit, man,” one of the guys said.
“Whoa,” said a guy who lived there. “My old lady was fattening that bird up for Thanksgiving dinner.”
I was horrified, furious with Golda, and seriously bummed about the poor turkey. “I’m so sorry! She’s never done anything like this before.”
The woman of the house came out to see what all the fuss was about. She was a very be-here-now, go-with-the-flow, no-nonsense kind of gal.
My dog, her blond scruff bloodied and feathered, sat panting next to her prey.
“Anything I can do?” I stammered. By rights this woman could have been royally pissed, called animal control, sued me or at least made me pay for her bird and no doubt kicked me off her land. But — and here’s where my thankfulness for hospitality and human kindness come in — she did none of those things.
Country Woman lifted the limp turkey by its legs and assessed the damage. She smiled matter-of-factly and handed the bird over to me.
“You can pluck it.”
Award-winning and writer Sally Sheklow lives in Eugene with her partner, two cats and no dogs.