High school seniors, at least those in Ellen Harmon's morning government classes, are thankful today for some things that would have shocked George Washington when he proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1789.
"What would I miss the most if taken from me tomorrow?" 44 T.C. Williams High School seniors were asked. "Video games," "the telephone," "my driver's license," poured out the replies.
Were those early Americans in Alexandria today, the powder raised as they shook their white-wigged heads disapprovingly might not have settled until Christmas when they heard the students' replies. Yet if the parents of the '80s were listening, it would take a month of New Year's Eves before they would believe that nearly every senior listed his or her family, along with the latest "Prince" album, on the November "Top Five" thankful chart.
Washington had declared the last Thursday in November "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer," but for most of these 17- and 18-year-olds, Thanksgiving is a declared "day to stuff yourself with stuffing." Publicly thanking, they said, is not their style.
"It's a feed-your-face day," said Kirk Cowden, who sat attentively in the first row before lunch last week. "Most definitely," he added, mentioning heaping plates full of white meat turkey and cranberry sauce and the two days off school to digest it. But in private, Cowden wrote on a piece of notebook paper that he was grateful for the "freedoms available in the United States, which are not available anywhere else in the world."
Thanksgiving Day, Cowden and his classmates say, is not the best time to think about what you are thankful for. When your family is seated all around you, the table brimming with turkey and biscuits, they said, you do not know how much you appreciate parents and food. When you're hungry or your mother's in the hospital, as senior Robert Pettiford said, "You realize what an important part of your life they are."
Of the 44 seniors who jotted down five of the most important things in their life, 35 wrote "family" and 28 wrote "freedom" on their list. "It sounds stupid, but it's true," added Cory Shecter, after writing down both.
"Life," "education" and "friends" all rated about 15 responses. Seven seniors said that one of the things they would most miss, if it was suddenly taken from them, was money; only five said they would miss love.
Snowball and Scruffie, two of Marquiete Brown's puppies, were at the top of her list of thanks. And the same number of people wrote that they were grateful for basketball as wrote about peace: one.
Do they think times have changed since the November days of Washington or even of their parents? Stacy Fling, who does not particulary care for powdered wigs, said "not really," even though her mother shakes her head at the punk hair styles.
"It's not until there's war that everybody starts talking about peace," said Fling. "But," she said, "I guess we're all really thankful for pretty much the same important things . . . . Freedom and family."