Thanksgiving Column

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Thanksgiving Column

By: John A. Baden, Ph.D.
Posted on November 27, 2013 FREE Insights Topics:
Let's count our blessings, not only because tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. (Also Chanukah so this suggests interesting menus.)  Ramona and I have just returned from trips to big cities, Boston, New York, and Chicago.  We were treated well indeed and greatly enjoyed seeing friends and relatives.  Still, I felt blessed to return to Montana.  There is an immense amount for which to be thankful.  
I came home a few days earlier than Ramona and arrived to my favorite winter weather, zero degrees, sunny, and windless.  One of my most memorable days was just like this when logging on former Burlington Northern timberlands, near the Yellowstone Club's Warren Miller lodge.  It was exactly this weather, zero, sunny, and windless.  I recall Garry Olson warming his chainsaw on the exhaust stack of a D6 Cat.  Wonderful, one of the best sounds I've heard.  Ever!
Learning is one of travel's benefits. I relearned something important; tastes vary.  People reveal preferences by their actions more than assertions.  Selecting where to locate is telling.  Many, many people prefer living in huge cities.  I understand the logic of these decisions but find them alien.  
For those of us in Montana, big cities offer important blessings.  Obviously, they foster economic coordination and innovation.  Further, if they did not exist, many more people would live here.  That would alter the character of Montana, a state larger than Japan but with just one million residents.  Some are here by accident; they were born here, but others self-select to live here.  
The ratio of the “natives” to the migrants is changing.  Why? Many of our children move to cities, places where opportunities abound.  Concurrently, our part of Montana has become a magnet for successful, optimistic individuals.  These are people with high human capital.  They recognize our environmental and cultural bounty and they elect to move and exercise their talents here.  
This too is a blessing.  Not all good things go together but on balance this is a better, easier place than forty years ago.  Consider medical care, grocery stores' selections, and employment opportunities for the skilled and talented.  
More importantly, we have maintained, indeed improved, the sense of community and organizations devoted to caring for others.  Think of the dramatic increase in organizations devoted to unfortunate others.  Eagle Mount and Warriors and Quiet Waters originated here.  Both are gold standard not-for-profits.  Blessing indeed.  
Living in America, clearly the world's most successful large -scale social experiment, is a major blessing.  This too is something to share.  Here is an example worth emulating.
Ramona and I know a woman whose family immigrated to America from Vietnam fourteen years ago.  Today they operate personal care business in Bozeman and Belgrade.   Theirs is a success story. 
In early November Ramona asked this woman what she was doing for Thanksgiving.  She replied that their shops would be closed.  "Yes, of course", said Ramona, "but how will you celebrate?  Will you have a turkey for dinner?"
It soon became evident that the Vietnamese woman had no understanding of Thanksgiving's history or significance.  Ramona saw a missed opportunity and decided to fill it.  
She explained that the Pilgrims too were immigrants.  They arrived from Holland via England in 1620 and settled in Massachusetts.  They celebrated their first Thanksgiving after their first harvest in 1621. Their feast lasted three days, and was attended by Indians and 53 Pilgrims.
Thanksgiving is an honored American tradition celebrating liberty and prosperity.  The Continental Congress issued a "Proclamation of Thanksgiving" in November of 1782.  President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens" in 1863.  This annual celebration is held on the fourth Thursday of November.
Ramona explained that giving, especially to the poor, is an important part of America's Thanksgiving tradition.  Churches and other community organizations have complex and elaborate food drives.  Thanksgiving Day here enhances community.
The owners of John Bozeman's Bistro host a free Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless and poor.   (The occasional random tourist wanders in as well--and is welcomed.)  The Bistro's regular customers donate turkeys, money, and serve the dinners.  Then when the door finally closes, the "servers for the day" sit down to what is left.
Bozeman's Thanksgiving Day run, "Huffing for Stuffing", s generates proceeds for the Gallatin Valley Food Bank.  Their six-year cumulative donation is over $140,000.   "Huffing For Stuffing is about community support, family and fun; runners and walkers of all abilities are welcome."  (Registration is $25, kids free, at
People experience a "barrier to entry" when encountering new cultural experiments, even Thanksgiving.  Ramona decided to help her Vietnamese acquaintance climb the barrier and introduce her family to this American tradition.  The means was easy and Albertsons grocery supplied it.  
Albertsons offers a complete "stress free" Thanksgiving dinner feeding six to eight.  In addition to turkey it includes cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, scalloped potatoes, spiced apples, and dinner rolls.  Just heat it up and serve.  
All this for forty dollars.  This seems a good investment for introducing recent, ambitious arrivals to an American tradition.  I know less about the motivations of these Vietnamese than I do the Pilgrims.  I do know they work hard and have been honest, indeed scrupulous in their dealings with us.  Welcome to an American tradition.  
Sharing it may increase their participation in the world's most successful large-scale social experiment.  I am hopeful that examples such as theirs will rekindle appreciation of our blessings.  Few places enjoy our conjunction of responsible liberty, prosperity, and environmental quality.  
Alas, the institutions that foster these values, the rule of law, secure property rights, and the market process are all under attack.  One main enemy is crony capitalism, aka fascism.  I hope this deviation from America's traditions of civil society is transitory.   That passing would be a great blessing indeed.

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