OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: So what about Thanksgiving?

With Thanksgiving 2023 behind us, our thoughts are focused on the weeks remaining until Christmas. Our home is already fully (and I do mean fully) decked out inside and out with Santas, snowmen and every conceivable form of festive Yuletide cheer.

Nonetheless, I've continued to reflect on my Thanksgiving celebration this season shared with Jeanetta, Danny and Susan Timbrook, cousin John Arthur and new friends.

The Timbrooks invited us to share Susie's typically delicious feast on this day devoted to gratitude, gorging and gridiron.

This was my second Thanksgiving on a feeding tube, which meant that by the time everyone was passing the turkey and stuffing, I'd already privately sent my plain vanilla "meal" down the tube and sat to watch others around the table enjoy while I inhaled the laughter and amazing aromas of what until two years ago was one of my favorite experiences of the year.

I actually felt a little guilty knowing some of them were quietly feeling sorry for the hand life had dealt me at 76. And in all honesty, last Thanksgiving I also felt a bit sorrowful for myself.

Following many months of treatments since to remove the plum-sized squamous cancer that took root and grew in a lymph gland beneath my left jaw, my life changed. The net result of the radiation and extensive surgery at UAMS was the permanent loss of all but one of my salivary glands, an inability to swallow unthickened water or food, a compromised voice box and the risk of anything that goes down my throat deviating into the lungs rather than the stomach.

So I choose not to risk it.

After living with the malady and its demands, I was pleased this year to see I'd outgrown the "why me?" attitude.

As the food was passed and everyone dug in, I also was happy they could enjoy the moment. It did my heart good watching everyone around the table savoring the food and wine, this time without feeling the slightest pity for myself.

So, I laughed and and conversed while trying not to stare at the food. I was feeling the meaning behind this day more than ever before. After the decades of Thanksgiving feasts I've enjoyed, I understood their contentment. I recalled what it was like just to chew, the flavors of turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes with slightly burned marshmallows, cranberry salad and pie.

Watching others relish each bite provided sufficient satisfaction. It was a unique feeling to step back from traditional feasting to spend that hour at the beautifully set table with thoughts of gratitude for life, for each of them and Jeanetta beside me.

At one point I looked under the table to see two glistening eyes staring back, pleading, "Oh please, please, Dad." Yes, Benji boy, I am very thankful for you, too. But sorry, you furry little golden beggar, ol' Dad doesn't have anything to accidentally drop today.

Driving home later that afternoon, I reminded Jeanetta just how much she means to me and how thankful I am she's my devoted partner and beautiful wife. Having a life-altering affliction invariably magnifies a person's appreciations.

All in all, mine was a rewarding Thanksgiving without taking a single bite, wouldn't you agree, valued readers?

Unbuckled are dying

If you're anything like I am, it's not uncommon to forget to buckle up while driving, even after all these years of reminders to do so in order to save my life and others.

But the time of year has rolled around again when I'm reminding myself every time I start the car because our public servants with shiny badges who drive fast cars with flashing blue lights are going to be watching us closely with ticket books at the ready.

The wise among us will buckle up before leaving the driveway.

And while buckling up can feel like a small inconvenience, when one stops to examine the potential results of not doing so, one's attitude can change dramatically. A cursory check on the number of highway fatalities caused by those failing to attach their seat belts certainly tells a somber and factual tale.

A story in the Harrison Daily Times last week reported that in 2021 there were 26,325 passenger vehicle occupants killed in traffic accidents, half of whom were not known to be wearing seat belts.

For those fatalities where restraint use was known, 49 percent of front-seat passengers without seat belts were killed, and 57 percent of those unrestrained in the second row died.

And if that's not enough to capture your attention, over the long Thanksgiving weekend in 2021, 361 passenger vehicle occupants dies in accidents nationwide. Half of those were not wearing belts.

It's easy enough to understand why our guardians sworn to promote public safety are choosing to become so involved.

Booting Oliver

Last weekend I wrote about a mid-30s man named Oliver playing a violin in a Harrison grocery store shopping center parking lot along Highway 65 while standing in the rain on a cold day. He had created a sign saying he had three children to support.

I wrote of the enormous amount of willpower it took to shiver in that frigid rain and play such beautiful music for everyone within earshot. I offered him what cash I had to help, believing he was more than earning whatever donations came his way.

It was the type of inspired music many people purchase expensive tickets to enrich their lives in a concert hall.

Reader Harriet Nieman of Harrison read the column and responded: "Mike, I read your account of 'Oliver,' the violinist in Harrison whose music so moved you. Recently, I also heard the violin music as I entered a grocery store. Very unusual, I thought. Shopping completed, I returned to my car. Again I heard the beautiful gypsy music.

"I found the source was a young man and a woman with three little children. I returned to the store and bought bread and cheese, a container of milk, bananas and a bag of apples and took them to that musician and his family.

"Although I do not know if this was the same man you met, I responded in a similar way as you did. I was touched."

I feel certain Oliver is the person we both heard and met at the grocery store. Good for you, Harriet, for helping.

Then I read the Harrison Daily Times Police Log which said someone not affiliated with that store had actually complained about Oliver's music to the police department. Officers arrived and asked him to stop playing because of this person's complaint.

But wait just a minute. What about the majority of others who appreciated and enjoyed the experience of unexpectedly hearing the magnificent strains of a violin wafting across a parking lot? Since when is hearing a minute of beautiful music something any normal person would find offensive?

This warped kind of "one-person's-offended-so-let's-overreact-and-shut-it-down-for-everyone" mentality has been happening all across our nation. It's disgusting and wrong to allow a single pathetic man or woman to dictate what many others may appreciate or want.

Plus, I find their censorship deeply offensive. So what about my complaint? Since when was it established in our nation that one self-absorbed sourpuss is allowed to dictate the outcome of what the masses might be enjoying?

Another concerned reader wrote to say I'd likely been "scammed" by this man, adding that other musicians in the past have done much the same thing as buskers in and around Little Rock.

I explained to him what I said above. Anyone willing to brave frigid temperatures and steady rainfall to try and earn a few bucks for his family by sharing his talents has a difficult job I surely wouldn't want.

If anyone is getting scammed in this exchange of unsolicited beauty for compensation, I'd say it's Oliver based on the relatively meager response his efforts were bringing.

I doubt you're reading this, Oliver, but please keep playing your violin for the many who appreciate your gumption, skill and heart. As for the offended complainer? Well, they'd be far better off getting their bacon, eggs, cheese dip and Fritos and heading home to the recliner and true-crime dramas.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you, especially those who add a moment of joy to your cold and damp day.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected].

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