Happy Thanksgiving, America! I hope you’re enjoying this most American of all holidays. The best way I can think of for everyone to enjoy it is to turn off the news and not bring up politics over the turkey and dressing. Trust me, your family members will be extra thankful for that.
Of course, Thanksgiving is a time when we don’t just see our close relatives, we see family members that, for better or worse, we seldom see any other time of year. When I was a boy, I had a very special relative who visited only over the holidays. But he taught me a lesson that helped make me what I am today.
When I was a boy in Hope, Arkansas, one thing about the holidays I most looked forward to was the annual visit from my Uncle Garvin. Garvin Elder was my mother’s half-brother from her dad’s first marriage, and so much older than her, he was like a grandpa to my sister and me. He was an accountant and a lifelong bachelor from Houston, and quite an impressive figure whenever he arrived by bus in Hope. He owned stocks (can you imagine such a thing?!) and carried a real leather suitcase with travel tags, not like the cardboard suitcase we owned but never used. And he wore a suit, tie and starched white shirt every day. In our town, if you saw a man in a suit, it could mean only one thing: he was either going to or coming from a funeral.
Over the holidays, while my parents were at work, Uncle Garvin was the only adult in the house. So when he wasn’t taking his daily unbreakable appointment with the “Perry Mason” rerun, I would constantly pester him to play checkers with me. Now you must understand, this was in the days before self-esteem classes and helicopter parents. Uncle Garvin didn’t realize how impolite, damaging, even psychologically traumatic it was to beat the daylights out of a sensitive young boy at checkers. No, he played to win. And he relished beating me…which he did, over and over and over.
Of course, I hated losing to him. But that just made me want to challenge him again. Over time, I gradually got better until I actually beat him occasionally.
Looking back now, I realize what a huge favor Uncle Garvin did for me by developing my competitive spirit. These days, we’ve built a society of handwringers so afraid of hurting a child’s self-esteem that everyone gets a trophy just for showing up, no matter how poorly they perform. So there’s no incentive to work hard and get better.
This is the same mindset that’s given us incompetent CEOs who crash companies, then run to the government for a bailout because they’re “too big to fail.” And idiots in government who bail them out with money they confiscate from hardworking taxpayers, because it’s “not fair” that some succeed when others don’t.
Call me crazy, but I believe there’s something to be said for competition and for rewarding hard work, talent and intelligence. That’s why every Thanksgiving, when I’m giving thanks to God for my countless blessings, I include a little prayer of thanks for my Uncle Garvin…and for all those long-ago checker games that were so painful to lose at the time.