Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Man Behind Our Thanksgiving Poem


My Grandmother Hoopes once told me that if she could be anywhere in the world, she would chose the kitchen of her youth, with a fire blazing in the old stove, a bowl of popcorn in her lap and her father entertaining her and her sisters with stories of his boyhood. 

Sadly, my notes on Great Grandpa Andrew Divers are missing most of these stories.

I love that my Grandpa Divers came from exceptionally humble beginnings in a backwater town in deep Missouri.  I've always wondered what his extended family thought of Mormons, or if they shared any of the anti-Mormon sympathies during the mid 1800s (I hope not).  Regardless, I find it remarkable that Andrew eventually found himself at the age of 45 in Salt Lake City, madly in love (my grandmother's words) with a widowed Mormon girl and raising two girls and one stepdaughter.  

Andrew never finished his schooling and certainly never had any formal education.  But I know this man loved and valued education.  As I sit here today with Andrew's copy of Byron's Poetical Works in my hands, pages spotted with Andrew's hand written notes, I know he never stopped trying to advance the progression of his mind through self learning and lots of books.  Indeed, if his daughters were any sign of the literary, political, theological discussions which took place in the Divers home, the educational environment must have been enticingly rich.  
    
I think of Grandpa Divers every Thanksgiving, wondering what it would have been like to hear him recite his annual poem.  We read Whitter's words in his honor before the big feast - feeling the presence of him and so many others who stay close to us on the other side.   

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest;
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored;
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before;
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye,
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

…Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E’er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,

Brighter eyes never watched o’er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!


-John Whittier, The Pumpkin-


Hettie (back), Virginia, Andrew and Betty (front)

Andrew with daughter Virginia

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