A few weeks before Thanksgiving, a story in The Christian Science Monitor offered a look at Afghanistan. "Dim Urban Centers Contrast With Neon-Lighted Iran Cities," the headline read. Subheads added: "Women's Faces Veiled" and "Western Garb Scarce."
Several days later, in a front-page story from Washington, the president warned Americans that the nation was standing on the brink of "one of the greatest crises we have ever faced." Another article focused on 900,000 "utterly hopeless" refugees.
Afghanistan. A grave crisis. Refugees. It all sounds so timely. But these articles appeared in the Monitor 50 years ago, in November 1951. Afghanistan was a pre-Taliban country. Harry Truman occupied the White House, and the potential crisis he feared involved the risk of a Soviet attack in Europe. The refugees were Arabs.
To read these Monitors from 50 Thanksgiving seasons ago is to be reminded that even the supposedly idyllic 1950s were shadowed with challenges.
On Thanksgiving eve in this turbulent autumn of 2001, a look back offers a reassuring perspective. It places current events in a long-term context. Crises and challenges come and go, but hope and courage endure and prevail.
In 1951, the Korean War was in its second year. In his Thanksgiving Proclamation, Truman stated: "With the cooperation of our Allies, we are striving to attain a permanent peace, and to assure success in achieving that coveted goal, we reverently place our faith in the Almighty."
Even in that relatively innocent era, morality posed challenges. In a letter to the editor, a Monitor reader lamented a "definite down-trend, ethically and spiritually. The alarming confusion of the people morally points to a new low. Young people cheat and take dope." That same month, government officials and college presidents sought to "repair the low ethical standards which have been manifesting themselves in American activities."
Fifty years ago, Yankee thrift stood at impressive levels. Americans were saving about 10 cents of every dollar they earned, after taxes, compared to 3.8 cents today. Still, more than 5 million Americans received some form of public assistance. Four million families had an income of less than $1,000 a year.
As homemakers in 1951 shopped for Thanksgiving dinner, they found food costs standing at record highs. Prices had risen 13 percent since the "pre-Korean days of June 1950," the Monitor reported. Turkeys ranged from 53 cents to 58 cents a pound wholesale. Today, that is the retail price for turkeys in some supermarkets. Still, a 1951 Thanksgiving feast at the Hotel Continental in Cambridge, Mass., cost just $3.50 - $2.50 for children.
The primary role of most women in 1951 centered around the home. But in a sign of changes to come, politicians were recognizing women's growing power as voters. And noting the large number of women in real estate, a Pennsylvania newspaper columnist asked lightheartedly: "What should we call a woman realtor - a realtoress?"
Another humorist, the Monitor's beloved John Gould, posed a seasonal question for everyone gathering around a Thanksgiving table in 1951. Writing in a column headlined "Squash or Punkin?" he teased: Can anyone really tell the difference between squash pie and pumpkin pie?
In a 1951 Thanksgiving editorial, the Monitor described a world "where gratitude for the fruits of peace is jostled by bleak anticipations of direful days to come." It encouraged readers to face the future "with glad and grateful heart," adding, "These are magnificent days to be living in."
The editorial ended with these reassuring words, as relevant now as they were then: "Today is ripe with promise. Thanksgiving sees through night the flooding dawn."
What better blessing to mark a day of gratitude?