The Principal’s School Thanksgiving Feast: All can come, both the Police and Parents with Outstanding Warrants!

 

This is Bill Rich’s last of three or four blogs about the American Thanksgiving feast posted here at Ethnography.com.  Previous posts have reflected on how to distribute turkeys to the poor kids at the school.  This blog also reflects on how to organize a Thanksgiving feast on school time, but also the others Bill needed to work with during the school year.  How do you arrange it so that both parents with outstanding arrest warrants and the local police can come to the same feast?  TW

by Bill Rich

After preparing and delivering Thanksgiving baskets to needy families in my school attendance district, I looked forward to the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday when we would hold our own school feast. This day was marvelous for me across an entire spectrum of personal and school needs. The weather was always comfortably cool, in the 60’s but sometimes reached the 70’s after the normally hot fall in the 90’s. The entire school community gathered happily under the banner of gratitude and thankfulness. 200 parents who were not on the free lunch program paid for their lunch and sat down with their children after waiting through the cafeteria line and being served, turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and green beans, freshly baked rolls with butter, and cranberry sauce as well. Free lunch parents also came in droves to enjoy this special time. This was not a meal of government cheese and beans. The cooks arrived early, 4am, and I budgeted the overtime happily for the benefit this day would bring to the school community. Classes gave short performances for parents including recitations of poems, plays with turkeys, pies, Pilgrims and friendly Indians helping one another in difficult times.

At the First Thanksgiving

From friendly Squanto, wise in all things wild,

We found out where the fattest codfish flash.

To mingle beans and corn in succotash

We learned. We learned as though we were one child.

 

By winter winds whose edges carve like knives

Our numbers have been pared.

Now we who have been spared

Thank the Good Lord who took but half our lives.

X.J. Kennedy

 

Jake O’Leary’s Thanksgiving

When Jake O’Leary

Thanksgiving Day

Was having lunch

With his Auntie Mae

And later on

When dessert came by

Was given his private

Pumpkin pie.
And hated the filling,

Hated the crust

And couldn’t eat it

And knew he must…

In order to get it out of sight,

He gobbled the pie

In ONE BIG BITE.

 

Though gulping the pie

Was far from easy

And Jake O’Leary

Felt stuffed and queasy,

He forced himself

(As a person does)

To thank his auntie

Whose pie it was.

 

But found his thanks

Were a sad mistake

When Mae, his auntie

Remarked to Jake:

‘It’s easy to see

With half and eye

You’re crazy about

My pumpkin pie.’

 

And off she hurried

On flying feet

And brought him another

Pie to eat”

 

Kaye Starbird

 

The cafeteria was built for a school of 200 and attendance was around 450 at the time I was principal. Normally we ran three lunch periods and on this special day, the line never stopped for about 3 hours, from 11am to 2pm. I also budgeted lunch tables for students to eat lunch outside during my first year at this school and this paid off during such a day when many visitors came. Parents came from work and sat with their kids and friends and enjoyed themselves immensely.

Police came after being invited as my guests and connected with children whose parents could not come for various reasons. It was heartwarming to see veteran officers standing in a long lunch line with the children of the people they typically arrested. I worked to develop this important community relationship by inviting these officers to lunch at local sandwich shops or diners at least once every few months. In this way I got my own briefing on gang activities and issues I needed to know about from teams of beat cops assigned to my neighborhood, as well as with the officer assigned to youth and teen crimes As a result, I never called them for petty issues, but when I called, they came immediately. We had a gentleman’s agreement that the PD would not hook up the parents with parole violations at the Thanksgiving lunch when and if they showed up. Central office administrators and confidential staff came to support me and to be seen supporting me. Most important, school board members came and enjoyed the opportunity to connect with parent-voters, to listen and to tell about accomplishments. Parent club officers and other club members came and took advantage of the opportunity to talk over various projects and also to meet other working parents who could not come to school on a regular basis to volunteer. There was a feeling of wholesomeness after the good deeds of delivering Thanksgiving food baskets and this motivated them to cooperate and feel good about doing it.

There were no official speeches since there was not a time when all were assembled in one place. But I ‘worked the room’ like the pro I was, connecting with everyone. I wore a blue blazer with gray slacks and a regimental tie. And very important, I wore my big black gunboat brogues, shoes that signal authority, decision making power and who was in charge. I greeted and talked with as many parents as possible projecting confidence in our school and thanking them for supporting their kids in this simple but very meaningful way. I was the classic visible principal on this day. Teachers were not required to participate since they enjoyed a duty free lunch for 30 minutes by law. But most took part in some way and helped build the reputation of our school as a welcoming and supportive institution that taught great American values associated with a great American holiday, Thanksgiving.

I thought about the fact that this celebration was a construct that didn’t square with the actual history of the relationship among white settlers and Indians in this region. But that didn’t really matter. What mattered was the feelings of belonging and community ownership and even patriotism that were generated with the mythology around such an event. And these feelings and thoughts were completely authentic. But I wonder now how to prepare young children for the information that will come to them as they mature. How could I have told them, without adding a good measure of trauma to the lunch that their pioneer ancestors rounded up 500 or so natives and slaughtered them at Massacre Flats, a nearby clearing on the Sacramento River? Or that these same ancestors placed even more natives in a pen in what is now downtown Chico and marched them on a trek away from their lands, over mountains into Nevada, a trek that would kill over half of them? The Indians hereabouts didn’t share a Happy Thanksgiving with the 19th century Pilgrims to Northern California. Perhaps Thanksgiving should be a feast of confession, hope for forgiveness and reconciliation in the future. Who was the great American peace maker who could give us a model for the future of peace and understanding we desire?