A Thanksgiving 2020 Message from Dr. Doug Neckers
I grew up in Chautauqua County, New York, and Thanksgiving there meant a feast amidst all the relatives on my grandmother Neckers side. They were mostly farmers, and the general routine was that the men would go deer hunting in the morning, and all would gather for a huge dinner around 1:00 p.m. that one of the five siblings would host.
Their father was a Union veteran of the Civil War, an immigrant from Holland named Gerrit Jan Dunnewold, who spent nine months in the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. He nearly starved to death, but when he was released in April, 1865 he was given a soup bone and put on a rail car going north. He got back to our little town of Clymer, where he’d lived since not long after his parents left the Netherlands in 1845.
Thanksgiving was one of two events each year that brought that original Dunnewold family together. My grandfather was gone by the time I was born, but my parents carried on the tradition of the family feast of Thanksgiving – as we have with our children and now their children.
Though as children we always thought about the food, (my nine-year-old granddaughter specifically remembers her aunt's fold-over rolls) when we became adults, we realized just how thankful those of us that live in America need to be.
This year we are even more thankful, but we’re giving thanks at a distance.
This Thanksgiving I'm thankful for:
First, the U.S. Constitution. For years, when foreign students who had taken their Ph.D.s with me finally became citizens, I'd give them a small, pocketsize copy of the Constitution. This meant, I'd tell them, that they were on the next step in the road to their very own American dream. America can still be what America is because of the genius of Madison, Jefferson, Monroe and our other brilliant and forward-looking founding fathers.
Second, I’m thankful for the fact that our democracy isn't broken. The election of 2020 -- in spite of vigorous attempts to sabotage it – worked to express the will of the people.
Third, I’m thankful because we are mostly safe. Not, or not yet, from COVID-19, a virus that is proving to be humanity’s World War III -- but from foreign attacks. The horror of September 11, 2001 was an aberration that we hope won’t be repeated.
Fourth, I’m thankful for a mostly free and vigorous press. The Rupert Murdochs of the world haven't been able to wreck that yet. And even the First Amendment gives everyone the right to say and print almost anything they want, the press in America and all those colleagues that report to us usually tell us like it is -- honestly and forthrightly. Thank God for the press.
Fifth and finally, that Donald Trump will soon be gone. Yesterday the members of my direct family, lawyers, mostly but doctors and PhD's too felt the horrible tensions of the last four years being lifted. For this they initiated a collective Neckers family call to give thanks.
I just hope that lasts.
As I turned on a music program from Seattle this morning, they were just beginning the Pastoral Symphony -- Beethoven's 6th. I always remember the first time I heard it -- in the rain in the Amphitheater at Chautauqua when I was about 14.
Let’s all hope for more music, and better tomorrows.
Stay safe, and may all your family be well.
Douglas Neckers is an organic chemist, the McMaster distinguished professor emeritus and the founder of the Center for Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University. Follow his website, Science in 3D, at 3dscienceblog.com