Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Giving thanks … even now!

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Once upon a time, I used to write obligatory editorials for newspapers that offered words of thanks.

I mean, it’s Thanksgiving Day, right? A uniquely American holiday that is known around the world. Perhaps the most unique observance of this day I can recall occurred in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in November 1989.

My fellow journalists and I spent the day traveling from Cambodia during the day; we crossed the Mekong River on a raft full of folks carrying goods — and live animals — to market. We arrived in what used to be known as Saigon late that afternoon. We checked into our hotel.

We went to dinner that evening and the hotel staff, catering to their American guests, presented a meal of roast duck, mashed potatoes and peas. They wished us a happy Thanksgiving. It was delicious.

A Thanksgiving to remember … in Vietnam | High Plains Blogger

This year’s celebration brings its own unique quality. The world is enduring a pandemic. It has killed a quarter million Americans. There will be much more misery and heartache ahead. And yet …

We give thanks. We thank the first responders. We thank the medical personnel, the police officers and firefighters for their courage and dedication to protecting us. We thank teachers who educate our children. We are thanking the family members who endure the tragedy and we wish them Godspeed and our prayers.

We thank the researchers who are working diligently to find and perfect a vaccine that we hope will eradicate this killer disease.

We give thanks for our families, our friends and all those who are battling together.

I no longer write full time for newspapers. My work now is of a part-time, freelance nature. I give thanks to my employers for allowing me to keep my head in the game.

This truly is a time to give thanks and offer a word of hope that we might be finally on the road back to what we used to think of as “normal.”

We’re enduring this all at once. Let’s hope for better days … and let us give thanks for what — and who — we have around us.

Thank you, Mr. POTUS-elect

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I might be inclined to suggest that President-elect Biden is getting ahead of himself by delivering a Thanksgiving Day speech to the country that has elected him president of the United States.

Except for this …

The actual president, the guy who’s still on the job, cannot possibly deliver the kind of message we heard today from his successor.

Donald Trump doesn’t relate to people’s suffering during this pandemic, or their loss of a loved one that leaves an empty seat at the dinner table.

Biden said we should be “thankful for democracy itself.” Yes, I am quite thankful for it and for the blessings that have come to my family and me over many years.

Yes, I get that Joe Biden isn’t yet the president of the United States, but so help me he is sounding like the right man for this moment.

Welcome to Season of Stress

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

No one calls it this, but we are on the cusp of entering the Season of Stress in the United States of America.

Let me be crystal clear about this point. I vowed long ago to avoid getting sucked into the stress associated with the Thanksgiving-Christmas time of year. Think of the irony.

We celebrate Thanksgiving by, um, giving thanks for our plenty, for our loved ones, for our good health and all the things for which we should be giving thanks. Then many of us launch into the holiday buying season, scrambling at stores, plowing through the Internet for the deals of the century. Then we get bummed out when we cannot find the perfect gift to send to the special people in our lives.

It ain’t happening in our house. At least that’s my hope.

Now, what about the 2020 Season of Stress? We have this other thing hanging over us like a dark storm cloud.

It’s that pandemic. Right there we have a damn good reason to stress out.

Americans are dying daily. We set another “record” for deaths overnight. That record is likely to be broken, maybe today or tomorrow. Whenever.

The pandemic is inhibiting our gatherings. The nation’s health experts are warning us about the hazards of sitting on crowded airplanes or gathering around crowded dinner tables with extended family and friends. They tell us: Stay home; keep it quiet and simple; stay away from your loved ones; wear masks; practice appropriate distancing measures.

If that isn’t enough to cause stress in your life, I don’t know what will do it.

But … let us give thanks for this bit of potentially astonishing news: vaccines well might be on the way to a doctor or a pharmacy near you and me.

This is an extraordinary season in an equally extraordinary year. I will not shed a single tear as we say goodbye to 2020 in a few weeks. As for the stress, I am going to fight like the dickens to avoid it.

I am thankful.

Giving thanks for voters’ wisdom

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Allow me a brief moment to mix a bit of politics with the holiday week we’re going to celebrate.

I am giving thanks for the wisdom voters exhibited on Nov. 3 by tossing Donald John Trump out of the White House.

I remained cautiously optimistic that the outcome would turn out as it did, with Joe Biden assuming the title of president-elect. Yes, I had concern that Trump might pull a Houdini-like escape performance by repeating the stunning upset he scored in 2016 to become president.

When the votes came in and were tabulated, my concern was replaced by the satisfaction in realizing that most American voters were able to rectify the mistake that occurred four years ago.

They’re still counting ballots around the country. I look at the running totals almost daily and am heartened by the realization that more than 51 percent of Americans endorsed Joe Biden’s pledge to “restore our nation’s soul.” It needs restoration, to be sure.

I am going to place my faith in the deeds of the new president, that he will be able to bridge the chasm that divides us.

We’re going to give thanks for a lot of things this week. We shall give thanks for living in this great nation, for the liberty granted to us as Americans. We will give thanks for our families and the love that surrounds us and that we give in return.

I also am going to give thanks for the spirit of political redemption that arose on Election Day.

If this post offends you because it mixes partisan politics with the joy of a happy holiday, well … too bad. It’s what I am feeling in my heart this glorious morning.

Have a wonderful day.

Hoping for an actual breakthrough with Taliban

(Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) 

Oh, my … I do hope for an actual peace treaty with the Taliban.

Such an agreement could end the longest war in U.S. history, the one that began in retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attack on this country.

Donald Trump ventured to Afghanistan for Thanksgiving, broke bread with the troops and then announced to the world that peace talks with the Taliban had resumed. Remember, though, that he broke these talks off after an attack by Taliban fighters that killed an American serviceman.

What was so appalling at that moment was that Trump was going to bring the Taliban to Camp David while the nation was commemorating the 9/11 attack. Bad call, Mr. President.

So, now the talks are back on, as the president has said.

I want the war to end. I grew weary long ago of hearing of our men and women dying in combat. I am going to hope for the best here.

One word of caution: We are negotiating with a cunning, hideous, gruesome bunch of monsters. The Taliban are among the worst of the worst that humankind can produce. I worry that they cannot be trusted as far we can throw any of them.

If these talks produce an actual agreement and if it means an end to the nation’s longest war, then count me in.

Let us be wary, though, of the monstrous cabal with whom we are dealing.

Giving thanks on this special day … and always

I am not entirely comfortable writing blogs about Thanksgiving; I’ve done it once during my time as your friendly High Plains Blogger. I think I’ll do so today, for I have much for which to give thanks.

I am thankful that I hit it out of the park on the first pitch when I married my wonderful wife, Kathy Anne, more than 48 years ago. I tell young men all the time to avoid “looking for the girl of your dreams. She will simply appear — like a vision — when you least expect it.” That is precisely what happened to me in early 1971. The rest, as they say, is history.

I give thanks every day for the two men we brought into this world. Peter and Nathan arrived early in our marriage. They have grown into two of the finest men on Earth. What’s our formula? I don’t have the foggiest idea, other than we always sought to support them in whatever path they took on their life’s journey. They have found their way and they make us proud every single day.

I give thanks for our siblings, my own sisters and my wife’s brothers. They have produced their own children and grandchildren and great grandchildren over the years. Our sibs have remained close to us both and have been there for us whenever the needs have arisen.

I am thankful to be a grandpa to little Emma, the light of our life who we cherish beyond life itself. We are grateful to have her mother, Stephanie, in our life along with Emma’s two brothers, Dylan and Logan, who are all grown up and who we love unconditionally.

Beyond my personal family issues, I want to offer a word of thanks for our friends scattered literally around the world. They have welcomed us into their homes when we have traveled afar. They provide us with different world views on the issues of the day. We cherish the time we get to spend with them and to share our lives when the opportunities present themselves.

As you might expect, I give thanks that I was born in this great nation, that I have been provided the opportunity to pursue a career that enabled me to help provide shelter for my family, to feed them, to keep them safe.

I am grateful as well that this country continues to thrive, even with its warts, welts and blemishes … and that it allows me to criticize it without fear of retribution. Along those lines, I am thankful for the readers of this blog, even those who take me to task. I don’t say this enough, but they keep me humble when they tell where they believe I mess up … even if I believe I am right and they are wrong!

I give thanks for the life I have been granted and the myriad rewards that my journey has brought to my family and me. No one’s life is perfect. Mine surely isn’t.

However, on this day — and always — I give thanks for every single blessing that has been delivered to me.

‘I prefer to eat with the men’

Take a gander at this lovely couple. They are my late uncle and aunt, Tom and Verna Kanelis. They played a big part in my life and in the lives of my wife and sons.

I am thinking of them this week as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving. You may ask why. I will tell you.

They visited me once when I was a teenager stationed at a U.S. Army post far from home … for the first time, I should add. They made me feel “at home” on the other side of our vast nation.

I gave thanks to them in the moment for their presence in my life. I am doing so now.

It was Thanksgiving 1968. I had completed my Army basic training a month earlier in Fort Lewis, Wash. I got orders to report to Fort Eustis, Va., where I would attend aircraft maintenance school, learning how to service twin-engine OV-1 Mohawk airplanes.

Thanksgiving approached and we got word that we could invite anyone we wanted. I called Tom and Verna and invited them to join me for a holiday meal at Fort Eustis. They accepted. Here is where it gets so very pleasantly strange.

Tom was an Army colonel. He served as a staff officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. He was a decorated infantry officer, earning the Bronze Star with valor after seeing intense combat during the Korean War. He had enlisted in 1943, then went to officers candidate school to earn his commission. He served heroically.

When he and Verna agreed to drive two hours south from D.C. to Fort Eustis, I added his name to the guest list, noting that it would include “Col. and Mrs. Tom Kanelis.”

The commanding officer of our training battalion was a lieutenant colonel. Someone on his staff noted that an active-duty “full bird colonel” was coming and Lt. Col. Wolfe wanted to make sure Col. and Mrs. Kanelis were treated, well, accordingly.

Understand that I am watching all this through the eyes of a late-stage teenager. It was akin to an out-of-body experience. I was far from my home in Portland, Ore. I was preparing to learn an Army skill for which I had no experience. I might be headed to war in Vietnam. I was nervous.

My uncle and aunt arrived on Thanksgiving for dinner. I greeted them as they approached the mess hall. We went inside. Lt. Col. Wolfe greeted Col. and Mrs. Kanelis and damn near tripped over himself trying to ensure that Col. Kanelis and his wife were welcome and comfortable. I watched from nearby and could barely contain the urge to bust out laughing.

Then came the question from Lt. Col. Wolfe: “Would you like to eat in the officers’ mess or with the men.” Tom didn’t blink, flinch or hesitate. “I prefer to eat with the men.”

I knew precisely in that moment what Tom had in mind. He did not want to expose me to ridicule from my enlisted colleagues that I was getting preferred treatment just because I happened to be related to someone who outranked the battalion CO.

We had our meal. I enjoyed the company of two people I loved very much. They made my first Thanksgiving away from home one of the more memorable experiences of my life.

They’re both gone now. I miss them terribly. As for Lt. Col. Wolfe, I don’t recall ever discussing that day with him during my time at Fort Eustis. I hope he appreciated the self-control I demonstrated by not laughing out loud at what I witnessed.

Stupa offers grisly reminder of why we should give thanks

Take a good look at the structure you see here. It’s called a stupa. This one is at a place called Choeung Ek, which is just outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I’ve visited this place twice, in 1989 and again in 2004. I have written a blog post already about a remarkable Thanksgiving dinner some colleagues and I enjoyed in Vietnam in 1989. We had just visited Cambodia and returned to Vietnam to continue our journey through Southeast Asia.

I want to explain what this stupa is and what it contains.

It is temple that is full of human skulls. They were dug out of the ground, excavated from mass graves around the structure. The men, women and children who were buried there were victims of one of the 20th century’s most hideous regimes, the Khmer Rouge terrorists who ran Cambodia from 1975 to 1978. Their leader, Pol Pot, wanted to purge his country of citizens who were educated, who presented any sort of threat to the regime’s power.

All told, it is estimated that Pol Pot killed about 2 million Cambodians in one of the century’s worst cases of genocide. The country is littered with mass graves similar to the one next to the stupa.

We spoke during that 1989 tour of Cambodia with survivors of that terror. One young woman told me then that if Pol Pot were to come back and threaten her country, “We all will become soldiers” who would fight the Khmer Rouge to the death.

The Khmer Rouge didn’t come back. Vietnamese armed forces invaded the country in 1978 and exposed the horror to the world. The authorities were able eventually to hunt down Pol Pot. They captured him and imprisoned him; he died while awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.

The killing fields have been set aside as permanent memorials to the sacrifice endured by brave people of Cambodia. I want to show you this stupa to illustrate just one more time why our Thanksgiving in Vietnam was so special to us.

It filled me 30 years ago with a sense of gratitude I likely would not have felt had I not laid eyes on this stupa and peered at the skulls stacked from floor to ceiling inside it.

Yes, the holiday is a time to reflect. I choose to reflect as well on the tragedy that so recently befell a far-off land and pray — no matter how unlikely — for an end to this level of inhumanity.

When you lay eye on the evidence of such horror and hear the testimony of those who lived through it … and enjoy a meal served to commemorate your nation’s Thanksgiving holiday, you certainly understand why you have so much for which you give thanks.

Trump gobbles incessantly while pardoning a pair of turkeys

Good grief! All he had to do was smile, say a few funny lines prepared for him by his speechwriters about a deed he was about to perform, shake a few hands and call it good.

But when Donald Trump stood in front of the White House — along with the first lady — with a couple of turkeys for which he issued the usual “presidential pardon,” he chose to make, um, a political speech.

He made some nonsensical mention of the pending impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives, he tossed out his favored epithet toward the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, sought to brag about the unparalleled strength of the U.S. military.

He made a bird-brained spectacle of himself in a ceremony that could have produced good-natured laughs over a tradition that began during the administration of President Bush 41.

But … no-o-o-o. It didn’t play out that way, at least not to my ears as I watched it as it occurred this afternoon.

Let’s remember that this guy’s previous full-time gig prior to being elected president of the United States was as the host of a network “reality” TV show. Donald Trump is no stranger to staged events.

Weird, man.

A Thanksgiving to remember for the ages

I cherish the memories of many Thanksgiving holidays over the years. I will do so again this year. Our sons, our daughter-in-law and our granddaughter will join us for dinner. We will laugh and enjoy fellowship that only families can enjoy.

However, the most unique Thanksgiving of my life will be in the back of my mind. It occurred 30 years ago today. I was traveling in a faraway land, away from my wife and my sons. As I look back on it, I realize more clearly than ever the symbolism that Thanksgiving had in that time, in that place.

I was traveling through Southeast Asia with a group of editorial writers and editors. We traveled there to examine the issues of the day and to take a firsthand look at the ravages that war had brought to that region. We started our tour in Thailand. Then we flew to Vietnam, which to many of the Vietnam War veterans among our group filled us with another sort of emotion.

Then we flew to Cambodia, which in 1989 was a shattered hulk of a country. The Vietnamese occupiers who invaded the country in 1978 had just vacated. They left behind a nation in ruins brought to it by the horrifying Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot.

We departed Cambodia by bus caravan back to Saigon. It would take us all day to get from Phnom Penh to the city now known officially as Ho Chi Minh City; except that the civilians still call it Saigon.

After a harrowing trip that included crossing the Mekong River on a rickety raft that served as a “ferry,” we arrived in Saigon. We checked in to the Majestic Hotel. Then we went to dinner as a group, tired but ready to enjoy some good chow and each other’s company.

Our Vietnamese hosts knew that it was Thanksgiving Day, a uniquely American holiday. They went out of their way to make us feel “at home.” They served us a wonderful meal in the dining room of roast duck, mashed potatoes, peas and apple pie.

Was it the most scrumptious meal I’ve ever eaten? Not even close. One of my friends among the journalists gathered there called the main course “road kill duck.” But, our hosts’ hearts were clearly geared toward showing us some supreme hospitality. They succeeded far beyond measure.

As I look back on that Thanksgiving dinner three decades later, I realize now how thankful I was at the time — and I am today — at the bounty we enjoy in this country. Furthermore, as I recall the lingering misery we encountered in Cambodia, I am reminded of just how grateful we must remain in this country, where we hope we never experience what those brave and glorious people had to endure.

That dinner gave me a special understanding of what this holiday means to all of us. May we never take what we have for granted.