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A Day of Thanksgiving

     "It very well could be the best Thanksgiving we've ever had."

-- Pop Johnson, overcompensating for the lack of turkey   




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A Day of Thanksgiving


Well. It's that time of year again. 

A time when families get together, gorge on some chemical enhanced turkey, thirteen different kinds of pie, and then settle in for some football until, inevitably, something triggers that same family argument you had last year (-- and the year before that. And the year before that...). But before things turn too ugly, grandma makes a temporary peace by gonging everyone on the head with a gravy ladle. And after the dust settles, you realize you have approximately one month to cool off and start speaking to each other again -- because you get to do it all over at Christmas.

Man. I love the holidays.

Things never get [quite] that bad at the old Beerman household -- although it is my year for keeping the gravy ladle away from Grandma. Regardless of familial volatility, this is the time for giving thanks, so in the spirit of this holiday season and holiday seasons past, I give you a nice little piece of leftover Cold-War paranoia in the form of a educational short called A Day of Thanksgiving. And with that, save me a piece of pumpkin pie, thank the lord that the Cold-War is over, and enjoy.

We open on a nuclear family of six, gathered around the radio in the living room of a modest house (-- judging by the decor and fashions, I'm gonna say this is the late '40s or early '50s). When Pop puts his paper down, he breaks the Fourth Wall and addresses the audience directly and admits that maybe this year was the best Thanksgiving his family has ever experienced. But it sure didn't start that way...

We flashback to the day before and find his children, Dick, Susan, and Tommy, romping around the house with visions of roasted turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and all the fixings for Thanksgiving dinner lathering, rinsing and repeating in their precious little heads. When Mom overhears them in the kitchen, with baby Janet on her hip, she has to break the bad news that due to some unexpected bills, there will be no turkey dinner this year; they just can't afford it. This news sours the children's mood considerably, just as Dad comes home from work. Asking why everyone's acting like a bunch of Grumpy Gusses, Dick finally speaks up, saying that without a turkey dinner, they have nothing to be thankful for and Thanksgiving is ruined.

He even drops the bomb on Dad, saying all the neighbors will be having turkey but they won't.

But Dad and Mom put a quick end to all the moping by reminding the children that there is more to Thanksgiving than gorging yourself on food, and remind them that they're far better off now than the Pilgrim's were for the first Thanksgiving after crashing into Plymouth Rock those many years ago. In fact, Dad says, we enjoy freedoms and privileges the Pilgrims never dreamed of (-- like microwave ovens, cable TV, and internet porn). As the kids start to come around, Dad encourages them to take some time and prepare a list of things they're truly thankful for. And remember, he invokes, there are some places that get along with nothing at all. 

Ah! I think we're finally coming to the heart of the matter, and that heart of the matter is the scourge of Communism!

Later that night, Dad watches as his family mulls things over: Dick is in one corner, getting high on glue fumes while putting a model plane together; Susan is in another corner, maniacally cutting the heads off her paper dolls; and god only knows what Tommy is up to ... Finally, Thanksgiving Day arrives and the family gathers around the table for a feast of Raman Noodles. While Dad says grace, we go from family member to family member as they all sound off internally on what they're thankful for:

Tommy is thankful for the food they do get to eat; like milk and cookies. (They don't have milk and cookies in Russia, only rocks to chew on.) He's also thankful for the public library and the works of Jack London (-- What? That Commie?! How about some Upton Sinclair?). And he can't wait for the day when President Truman finally has the guts to give Uncle Joe Stalin a kick to the family Bolsheviks.

Susan, meanwhile, is thankful for the clothes she wears. She's also thankful for Sunday school, and being able to worship God in her own way (-- even by listening to Alice Cooper records backwards). And she's happy to belong to a family, and can't wait until she grows up to be just like her Mom and slave away in the home for some deadbeat  for the rest of her natural life.

Dick is thankful for the American School System, where anyone can become anything they want to be, because a man is judged by what he knows. (What the hell planet are these people from anyway?) He's also happy that he can play sports and swing a baseball bat. And he firmly believes that in the event of one of those pinko-commie bastards starting a nuclear war, he'll be safe by ducking and covering from the fallout. 

Baby Janet is happy for bath time, play time, and the security of her mother's arms. She, too, is happy that she doesn't have to grow up and become one of Uncle Joe's cue-ball concubines.

Mom is thankful that she lives in a place where her children were born safely. (Instead of a barn or the open icy steppes of Siberia.) She's thankful for hot water, phones for gossiping, and the right to gossip about anything she damn well pleases. Mom is also thankful that Dad has a job. She's also thankful that the minute he gets home, he plops his butt on the chair and reads the paper, and doesn't lift a finger to help her raise HIS four kids.

Dad is thankful for the house they live in (-- despite the mortgage, leaky roof, the termites, and faulty sewage system). He's also thankful that he can vote for any cretin that wants to run for public office. He's also glad that he doesn't have to fear a knock on the door by some "political gangsters" or, worse yet, Jehovah Witnesses. 

The prayer concludes with Dad wishing that, someday, all nations will be able to enjoy the overwhelming eccentricities of the American household. And that Democracy will spread like a rampant virus, and we won't ever have to worry about those infiltrating, lying, cheating, murdering, heathen Communists bastards ever again. Amen. And let's eat.

God Bless America!

The End

A Day of Thanksgiving is just one of over 82 short subjects penned by Margaret Travis for Centron Productions. Founded in 1947 by fellow Topeka, Kansas natives, Arthur Wolf, and Russell Mosser, Centron was based in Lawrence, Kansas, and specialized in educational, industrial and safety films that were always highly moralistic, rabidly anti-Communist, sort-of educational, but always unintentionally hilarious.

Centron's most famous product, however, was probably Herk Harvey. A quick glance at Harvey's resume shows that almost all the short films featured and lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000 were his responsibility (-- with Mr. B. Natural a notable exception). And after spotting a derelict carnival pavilion in the salt flats of Utah, Harvey was so inspired he decided to try his hand at feature filmmaking and gave the world the cult classic, Carnival of Souls, that I really need review one of these days. Harvey followed that up with another short, Pork: The Meal with the Squeal. Some times, you just can't make this stuff up ... Harvey would continue to direct shorts until 1968, while Centron continued to churn them out until 1981, when Wolf and Mosser sold it off and retired.

If you care to see this little piece of Americana and a few other bizarre shorts, it's included as bonus feature on Something Weird Video's Blood Freak DVD. And last check saw it was also available on YouTube.

So? Did we learn anything today? Well, I did. And I'm thankful that I live in a country where I can laugh and openly poke fun at slightly-skewed, but good-intentioned propaganda pieces without fear of "political gangsters" hustling me off to re-education camps, where I'm forced to watch hygiene and road safety films until I relent and admit I'm a happy little Capitalist.

Happy Turkey day everybody!

A Day of Thanksgiving (1951) Young America Productions Inc. :: Centron Corporation / P: Russell A. Mosser, Arthur H. Wolf / D: Arthur H. Wolf / W: Margaret Travis / C: Norman Stuewe / E: Chuck Lacey / M: Arthur H. Wolf / S: Dan Palmquist

Originally Posted: 11/22/02 :: Rehashed: 11/25/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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