Twenty years have passed since Eden Prarie resident Dick Brown told me the story of his most memorable Thanksgiving.
Brown, who died in 2006 at the age of 83, must have been quite the storyteller. The details of his story mysteriously resurface from my subconscious each Thanksgiving. It is usually triggered when I bite into a piece of chocolate.
As editor of the Eden Prairie News at the time, I had gone to Brown’s house in November 2001 to interview him for another story.
He was one of the World War II veterans I talked to about how the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks brought back memories from the war (many of them thought those first months after 9/11 led to a patriotic surge not seen since Pearl Harbor).
During the war, Brown served 33 months in the South Pacific as a U.S. Marine.
After the interview ended and I was gathering my tape recorder and notebook, Brown leaned back in his chair and looked like he had something else to say. I sat back down and listened.
He began talking about Thanksgiving. That made sense. The holiday was just a couple days away.
No, the particular Thanksgiving that Brown was thinking about took place in 1943.
So, his story began. I began to furiously take notes for a story published in the Eden Prairie News.
Brown told me that he and another serviceman were on a month-long recuperation leave from injuries sustained in the war. They were staying with a school teacher in Geraldine, a town in the Canterbury region on the South Island of New Zealand.
The teacher planned a big Thanksgiving dinner inviting many friends and relatives to make the Americans feel at home.
“You see, Thanksgiving isn’t in their country like it is here,” Brown told me. “But they became really wrapped up in the spirit of Thanksgiving.”
Because of wartime rationing, he told me the townsfolk pooled their food and put together a feast. Chocolate was served, even though it was “almost unheard of there.”
“(They did so) just because two Americans were there and they liked chocolate,” Brown remembered. “And I never have forgotten that.”
After the two servicemen returned from leave to a New Zealand hospital, they bought four or five boxes of chocolate and shipped it back to Geraldine with a note. It read: “Please distribute these to the kids at Christmastime.”
Each Thanksgiving, after I finish a piece of chocolate or two, I ponder why Brown’s story made such an impression on me. Then, I remember, and it all makes sense again.
If a simple act of kindness can make such a lasting impact after 58 years, maybe there’s hope for humanity yet. For me, that especially resonates in these turbulent times.
I recall a line from my favorite childhood movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Wonka says it at the end of the movie to Charlie and Grandpa Joe. The quote is actually derived from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.
“So shines a good deed in a weary world.”
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