Starting With Some Gratitude

The house seems extra quiet this week since Joe took down all the Halloween decorations already. No ghosts or ghoulies to keep me company anymore. We’re still on our scary movie kick though. We spent Halloween watching The Lost Boys and The Exorcist! Classics. We still have a few in our pile to watch yet (Psycho (the remake), The Ring, Village of the Damned, The Prophecy…)

Even though Halloween is over, it’s the beginning of another favorite holiday for me. Thanksgiving.

This holiday is always special to me and my family because we’ve tracked our ancestry back to two of the pilgrims that crossed over on the Mayflower. John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley. John Howland came from England as an indentured servant to John Carver, one of the Leiden Separatists (AKA: pilgrim). John Carver was Plymouth colony’s first Governor and the first person to sign the Mayflower Compact, which he wrote.

Me, standing in front of the Mayflower II - an exact replica of the original 1600's ship

Me, standing in front of the Mayflower II – an exact replica of the original 1600’s ship

But John Carver and his family did not survive the first winter in the new world. In fact, most of the original passengers on the Mayflower did not survive that first winter. My 17th Great Grandfather, John Howland, who was in his 20’s at the time, now found himself a land owner and became a prominent member of the community. He would later become quite a reputable fur trader, working with Native Americans along the coast of Maine, and ending his days as a farmer in Massachusetts.

Elizabeth was only a teenager when she made the voyage across the Atlantic with her parents. Her parents did not survive the first winter either.

Eventually, John and Elizabeth married in the new world, and over their life together, gave birth to 10 children! What is so remarkable about their story is that they all survived! The Howland line is the most common bloodline for pilgrim descendants to belong to because it was so rare that these people lived as long as they did. Elizabeth was in her 90’s when she passed!

Me standing in front of the Jabez Howland house in Plymouth, MA - one of only two houses still standing where a pilgrim (John and Elizabeth) actually lived.

Me standing in front of the Jabez Howland house in Plymouth, MA – one of only two houses still standing where a pilgrim (John and Elizabeth) actually lived.

I am fortunate in many ways. I’m fortunate that I know where my people come from. I know their story, or at least as much as I can know. And I know we are survivors. I’m also fortunate to have visited the land and place where they walked. The first time in 2010 with Joe, who was patient and understanding with me while I took photos of everything and felt like I was walking in a really good dream. The second time, just this year, when I took my parents to tour Plymouth and watched my mom have the same journey I did three years ago.

Mom and Pop outside Plimoth Plantation

Mom and Pop outside Plimoth Plantation

So Thanksgiving is a meaningful holiday for me. It’s a reminder of who we are and what we’ve been through. What we can endure, with hard work and family, in order to achieve our dreams. It’s a reminder to change for the better by learning from others and seeking understanding more than being right.

This month, I’d like to focus on thanksgiving. I’ve kept a journal since I was 13, but within the last year or so, I’ve turned it more into a gratitude journal. At the end of each entry, I write five specific things I’m grateful for.

Here is today’s list:

  1. The opportunity to travel to Plymouth this year with my parents.
  2. The chance to tour my ancestors’ home and see artifacts used by them.
  3. The sound of my mother’s voice, telling John and Elizabeth’s story at the dinner table on Thanksgiving day.
  4. My mom’s dairy potatoes.
  5. Knowing my family is full of survivors. If they can cross an ocean with only the stars to guide their way, then I can publish my damn book!

What are you thankful for today? What does Thanksgiving in your house look like?

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23 responses

  1. Love this, Jess! What a great way to not only start the week, but the upcoming holiday season, too. I’m forever thankful for my husband and children, and for our health. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake! Enjoy your holiday.

    1. Glad I could start your day right! And no one would look twice if you enjoyed that cake for breakfast either! 😉

  2. Wow! That is so awesome that you know that much about your family history! I love your gratitude list, too, especially #5.

    Scary movies are not my thing anymore, but Lost Boys is one of my all-time favorites!

    1. You should’ve seen Mark’s 80’s rocker costume he submitted! I told him it was very Corey Feldman. “Thou shall not fall…”

      1. “Death by stereo.”
        *nods knowingly*

  3. That’s so cool, Jess!! I love hearing genealogy stories. Your story really makes Thanksgiving extra special. When I was a kid, I always loved to dress as a pilgrim on Thanksgiving. 🙂

    1. Aww, that’s cute. We never dressed up but we always told the story. My mom’s been reading the old geneology books we bought in Plymouth and telling me more!

  4. What a cool history. My ancestors on both sides were Eastern European peasants, mostly sheep herders, from what I understand. Which explains my enjoyment of lamb.

    We watched The Exorcist, too! I hadn’t seen it since I was a teenager, and it was Tara’s first time. Such a classic film!

    1. Was she totally freaked out? I’ve seen before and still get creeped out!

      Have you ever traveled to where your ancestors are from?

  5. What a wonderful ancestry and a great story to hear at Thanksgiving.

    1. It’s been very rewarding learning more about that time in history over the last few years. And I’m truly grateful I got share it with my sister. Thank YOU for listening to my story as well.

      What’s your favorite part of Thanksgiving?

  6. I watched The Exorcist and some of The Lost Boys on Halloween night. 🙂
    Wow. I’d love to be able to track down my ancestors. I wouldn’t know where to start.

    1. I’ve heard ancestry.com is really cool. My boyfriend’s sister went on there when she was pregnant to look at family history and get name ideas. Seems pretty cool. We should both check it out!

      And Exorcist all the way!

  7. Jess, what a wonderful family story! You are fortunate to be able to trace your roots so clearly and truly have a sense of history. I believe there might be another book in your future. I love your attitude of gratitude.

    1. Thank you for the compliment Patricia! That’s so kind. I really enjoyed reading The Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick (Philbrook? I’m blanking now), but I learned a lot about that time in history.

  8. Wow, I loved reading about this, so I can only imagine how exciting it’s been for your family to trace your roots! (I didn’t realize the history back when you blogged about the vacation with your parents!)

    Right now I am grateful for COFFEE. Give me a minute, and I’ll be grateful for bacon, too. (I know. I totally wouldn’t have survived that first winter.)

    1. I hear ya, Jules! I just got back from home and I was thinking “I’m grateful for bacon” too because I ate it twice this weekend!!! Yum! BACON!

      P.S. You’d look good in a bonnet. 😉

  9. I feel like I should know this, but what are dairy potatoes?? Regardless, I love your list – you’re such a mindful adventurer. 🙂 I’m feeling ultra thankful for my dog and thoughtful pals/loved ones today, which includes you!

    1. LOL – Dairy potatoes are what my family calls cheesy potatoes or au gratin potatoes. They’re just better because they involve french onion dip. Oh yah, they’re goooood.

      And I’m still thinking of you and your pooch. I love the pictures of Zoe you post. I hope you’re enjoying your time together, she’s a beautiful writing partner, and I thought of her each time I read about Stella (did I remember the name right? if not, I apologize) in In Her Shadow.

  10. You are lucky to know your family history! I appreciated your gratitude list too, especially about the sound of your mother’s voice. My mom lives far away, so I treasure our phone conversations. I hear her voice a lot more than I see her face.

    1. It’s funny, but I’m such a visual person. That was one of the most difficult things about writing my book draft was creating my mother’s voice. I had to take time when I wrote her dialogue because I wanted to get it right. She’s very much a character with the way she speaks. Her facial expressions are pretty good too.

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