Made in America holidays

A friend of mine collects old books. She's far better at it than me, but she's a kind friend, and shares without concern. So when I recently visited and stumbled upon an issue of The Atlantic magazine from the 1880s in one of her stacks, she allowed me to spend our visit reading. The hard-bound magazine was founded in 1857 by none other than Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., to name a few.


I was mesmerized. I opened and closed the book, slowly, gently, considering the long and arduous process required to publish a book back then. I thought about the person who read it first. I imagined the writing, the editing, the type foundry, the printers and smell of fresh ink. I imagined how excited the recipient must have been to receive the hard-bound magazine in the mail. And then I began to read. Until 2 am in the morning I read, blurry-eyed, but intent to get through every page, every day, every story in that one month in the 1880s.

Stories of every day life. Events and happenings of the day. Exotic tales of far-away lands and people. What remained with me most was the first story in the book. It may have been a publisher’s letter, of sorts; it felt like a letter from an old friend. It talked about the new postal system made up of youthful volunteers, the neighbor woman down the road, boys who fetched a bag of oats at the store and slapped it wildly on the back of their wagon.

And the story waxed on about the “good old days.” It’s author, my new friend who reached through 120 years to chat with me, reminisced about simpler times; back when people more trust-worthy, neighbors more friendly, life more predictable.

Let me get this straight. In the 1880s the good old days were already gone? Certainly neighbors might have been more civil considering the recent election, but then again, we have a history of some fairly pungent exchanges in the electorial process of this great nation.

So living gratefully, and gracefully, in the present has been a challenge for longer than my lifetime?

Lesson number one: Be grateful. Be thankful, here and now. Nothing is owed you. All is a gift. Especially 120 years after the good old days.

Lesson number two: Unless we remember history, we are doomed to re-learn its lessons first-hand. It was a banner-week as I had the good fortune of spending time with the Berlin Airlift pilots, and the kids they delighted with candy drops as they rescued the city in the late 40s. This last week was their annual get together, and in addition to some great food, and amazing stories, I was reminded about another time in history that America showed her ingenuity, and courage.

There is much for which to be grateful here and now, even 120 years after our best days. Instead of replaying our disappointments, let’s focus on the great things about our exceptional nation.

That’s worth pausing to give thanks. Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah. Here’s to the best, and happiest new year, ahead.