The First Ponderosa Thanksgiving (by BettyHT)

Summary:  The celebration is held in the true spirit of the holiday, but there is melancholy too.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  G
Word count:  1312


“Pa, what are you finding so interesting in the Territorial Enterprise? You read a bit and then you stare off into the fireplace. Must be something pretty big, huh?” Hoss was very curious as he watched his father read, stare into space, and then read again.

“Hoss, it is pretty big. They’ve printed a letter that President Lincoln has proclaimed. Listen to this: ‘The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.‘ I’ve been staring into the fireplace wondering how we could thank the Lord for all the bounty we have received. I’m thinking we should invite all of our neighbors to a big thanksgiving kind of celebration. We could have roasted beef, and lots of potatoes. We could ask Hop Sing to make some of those delicious noodles, and perhaps some squash pie and apple pie.”

“Now you’re talking my language. I didn’t rightly understand exactly what the President was saying, but I understood you perfect like.” Hoss leaned back in the chair with a big smile. A good party with good food and good friends seemed like a great idea to him.

“Could we have fireworks, Pa? It’s not a real party without fireworks.” Joe liked any kind of party especially if there was excitement and if there were a lot of pretty girls in attendance.

“No, Joseph, we will not have fireworks. This is supposed to be a giving of thanks.”

“Well, Pa, I know I’d be more thankful if there were fireworks.”

Hoss chuckled and Ben couldn’t stay serious either. Adam was serious though making Hoss wonder why.

“Now Adam, what are you reading over there? We’re trying to plan a party here.” Hoss was watching Adam who was reading the newspaper that their father had set aside.

“Hoss, I was reading the same article that Pa was reading. The ending is very meaningful not only in regards to the war in the east, but here too. He says that we should ‘fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.’ I’m thinking that if we accept the meaning of the whole letter, we should invite all of our neighbors.”

“Son, I did say we would invite all of our neighbors.”

“Pa, did you mean to include the Paiute neighbors too?”

Ben set his paper aside and looked at his eldest son with a look that said he was being tolerant but wasn’t going to be pushed into anything he thought was out of line. “Adam, I don’t think the Paiute would be comfortable at a party here.”

Hoss disagreed with his father though as he got the point Adam was trying to make. “Pa, I think Adam is right. We oughta invite ’em. We could have the party outside so they would be more at ease, and we could include some food that they would like. I know they’ll like the beef, but we could serve beans and berries and stuff like that too.”

Even Joe started to get into the spirit of it then. “Hey, Pa, I like what my brothers are saying. It could be just like what those Pilgrims did. Maybe the Paiute would like to bring some of their food to the dinner too. We could ask everyone who’s coming to bring their favorite foods. We could play games like the Paiute do at their celebrations. We could have races, and shooting, and wrestling.”

Surprised but actually quite pleased to have his sons in agreement on something so significant, Ben was inclined to hear them out. He responded in a more reasonable tone after Joe finished what he had to say and smiled in Adam’s direction to let him know that he was reconsidering his eldest son’s initial proposal. “So you’re all in agreement that the Paiute should be invited?”

“Yes, Pa, I think we are.” Adam answered as Hoss and Joe nodded in agreement.

Pausing to try to think of everything that might go wrong, Ben agreed. “All right, then, Joe you are in charge of organizing the games and having some prizes that would be acceptable whether a white or a Paiute wins. Hoss, I want you to work with Hop Sing in organizing how we are going to set up this meal outdoors and to make sure as Joe does that both white and Paiute will be happy with what is offered. Adam, I’ll go visit our white neighbors to invite them, and you can ride to the Paiute camp to invite them. I suppose this could be an annual celebration if all works out well.”

*****

With all the work and preparations, the party was a success. There were some whites who wouldn’t attend when they found out that the Paiute would be there. There were some Paiute who refused to attend any celebration at a white man’s home because they thought of all white men as thieves who had stolen their land and suspected there would be more treachery. But there were plenty from both sides who thought a party before the winter set in was a wonderful idea. The more adventurous party guests were able to sample the foods of many other cultures finding many that they liked as Hop Sing had not only provided meals with a white and Paiute flavor but some of his Chinese dishes too. At the end of the party, Ben walked to stand by Chief Winnemucca as guests were leaving.

“I thank you for gracing my home with your presence. I hope that we can have this party of thanksgiving, friendship, and goodwill every year.”

“Sadly, my friend, I do not think that will happen. Maybe for a few years it will be so, but our people grow smaller in number every year as the animals are killed and the waters are made dirty. The sicknesses of the white man kill some of my people each year as well. They get the spots, and they get the fevers. Women become ill and have babies whose hearts do not beat for long. The old ones and the young ones die quickly from the sicknesses that we cannot fight. We grow weaker each year with enemies we can see and those we cannot. Soon we will be as the wind in the hills and the sand in the desert. But I thank you for giving us a time of peace and a time to thank our great spirit so he will welcome us home when it is time.”

With that, Winnemucca turned, raised his arm, and led the Paiute who filed out of the party to travel back to their home that would not be their home much longer. It was a party of thanksgiving and to promote healing, but there was only so much one party could do to change the hearts of men. Ben stood with his sons as they watched their friends leave. They were thankful for the time they had with them, but they were sad because they knew the years for that were short, and that would not change because too many of their white neighbors thought it was for the best.

***The End***

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