|There is one day
that is ours. There is one day when all Americans go back to the old
home and eat a big dinner. Bless the day. The President gives it to us
Sometimes he talks about the people who had the first Thanksgiving. They
were the Puritans. They were some people who landed on our Atlantic
shore. We don’t really remember much about them.
But those people ate a large bird called turkey on the first
Thanksgiving Day. So we have turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, if we have
enough money to buy turkey. That is a tradition.
Yes. Thanksgiving Day is the one day of the year that is purely
American. And now here is the story to prove to you that we have old
traditions in this new country. They are growing older more quickly than
traditions in old countries. That is because we are so young and full of
life. We do everything quickly.
Stuffy Pete sat down on a seat in the New York City park named Union
Square. It was the third seat to the right as you enter Union Square
from the east.
Every Thanksgiving for nine years he had sat down there at one in the
afternoon. Every time, things had happened to him. They were wonderful
things. They made his heart feel full of joy—and they filled another
part of him, too. They filled the part below his heart.
On those other Thanksgiving Days he had been hungry. (It is a strange
thing. There are rich people who wish to help the poor. But many of them
seem to think that the poor are hungry only on Thanksgiving Day.)
But today Pete was not hungry. He had come from a dinner so big that he
had almost no power to move. His light green eyes looked out from a gray
face on which there was still a little food. His breath was short. His
body had suddenly become too big for his clothes; it seemed ready to
break out of them. They were torn. You could see his skin through a hole
in the front of his shirt. But the cold wind, with snow in it, felt
pleasantly cool to him.
For Stuffy Pete was overheated with the warmth of all he had had to eat.
The dinner had been much too big. It seemed to him that his dinner had
included all the turkey and all the other food in the whole world.
So he sat, very, very full. He looked out at the world without interest,
as if it could never offer him anything more.
The dinner had not been expected.
He had been passing a large house near the beginning of that great broad
street called Fifth Avenue. It was the home of two old ladies of an old
family. These two old ladies had a deep love of traditions. There were
certain things they always did. On Thanksgiving Day at noon they always
sent a servant to stand at the door. There he waited for the first
hungry person who walked by. The servant had orders to bring that person
into the house and feed him until he could eat no more. Stuffy Pete
happened to pass by on his way to the park. The servant had gathered him
in. Tradition had been followed.
Stuffy Pete sat in the park looking straight before him for ten minutes.
Then he felt a desire to look in another direction. With a very great
effort, he moved his head slowly to the left.
Then his eyes grew wider and his breath stopped. His feet in their torn
shoes at the ends of his short legs moved about on the ground.
For the Old Gentleman was coming across Fourth Avenue toward Stuffy’s
Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years the Old Gentleman had come there
to find Stuffy Pete on his seat. That was a thing that the Old Gentleman
was trying to make into a tradition. Every Thanksgiving Day for nine
years he had found Stuffy there. Then he had led Stuffy to a restaurant
and watched him eat a big dinner.
They do these things more easily in old countries like England. They do
them without thinking about them.
But in this young country, we must think about them. In order to build a
tradition, we must do the same thing again and again for a long time.
The Old Gentleman loved his country. He believed he was helping to build
a great American tradition. And he had been doing very well. Nine years
is a long time here.
The Old Gentleman moved, straight and proud, toward the tradition that
he was building. Truly feeding Stuffy Pete once a year was not a very
important tradition. There are greater and more important traditions in
England. But it was a beginning. It proved that a tradition was at least
possible in America.
The Old Gentleman was thin and tall and sixty. He was dressed all in
black. He wore eyeglasses. His hair was whiter and thinner than it had
been last year. His legs did not seem as strong as they had seemed the
As this kind Old Gentleman came toward him, Stuffy began to shake and
his breath was shorter. He wished he could fly away. But he could not
move from his seat.
“Good morning,” said the Old Gentleman. “I am glad to see that the
troubles of another year have not hurt you. You continue to move in
health about the beautiful world. For that blessing you and I can give
thanks on this day of thanksgiving. If you will come with me, my man, I
will give you a dinner that will surely make your body feel as thankful
as your mind.”
That is what the Old Gentleman said every time. Every Thanksgiving Day
for nine years. The words themselves were almost a tradition. Always
before, they had been music in Stuffy’s ear. But now he looked up at the
Old Gentleman’s face with tears of suffering in his eyes. The snow
turned quickly to water when it fell upon his hot face. But the Old
Gentleman was shaking with the cold. He turned away, with his back to
the wind, and he did not see Stuffy’s eyes.
Stuffy had always wondered why the Old Gentleman seemed sad as he spoke.
He did not know that it was because the Old Gentleman was wishing that
he had a son. A son would come there after he himself was gone. A son
would stand proud and strong before Stuffy, and say: “In remembrance of
my father.” Then it would really be a tradition.
But the Old Gentleman had no family. He lived in a room in one of the
old houses near the park. In the winter he grew a few flowers there. In
the spring he walked on Fifth Avenue. In the summer he lived in a
farmhouse in the hills outside New York, and he talked of a strange bug
he hoped some day to find. In the fall season he gave Stuffy a dinner.
These were the things that filled the Old Gentleman’s life.
Stuffy Pete looked up at him for a half minute, helpless and very sorry
for himself. The Old Gentleman’s eyes were bright with the giving
pleasure. His face was getting older every year, but his clothes were
very clean and fresh.
And then Stuffy made a strange noise. He was trying to speak. As the Old
Gentleman had heard the noise nine times before, he understood it. He
knew that Stuffy was accepting.
“Thank you. I’m very hungry.”
Stuffy was very full, but he understood that he was part of a tradition.
His desire for food on Thanksgiving Day was not his own. It belonged to
this kind Old Gentleman. True, America is free. But there are some
things that must be done.
The Old Gentleman led Stuffy to the restaurant and to the same table
where they had always gone. They were known here.
“Here comes that old man,” said a waiter, “that buys that old no-good
fellow a dinner every Thanksgiving.”
The Old Gentleman sat at the table, watching. The waiters brought food,
and more food. And Stuffy began to eat.
No great and famous soldier ever battled more strongly against an enemy.
The turkey and all the other food were gone almost as quickly as they
appeared. Stuffy saw the look of happiness on the Old Gentleman’s face.
He continued to eat in order to keep it there.
In an hour the battle was finished.
“Thank you,” Stuffy said. “Thank you for my Thanksgiving dinner.” Then
he stood up heavily and started to go to the wrong door. A waiter turned
him in the right direction.
The Old Gentleman carefully counted out $1.30, and left fifteen cents
more for the waiter.
They said goodbye, as they did each year, at the door. The Old Gentleman
went south, and Stuffy went north.
Stuffy went around the first corner, and stood for one minute. Then he
There he was found. He was picked up and taken to a hospital. They put
him on a bed, and began to try to discover what strange sickness had
made him fall.
And an hour later the Old Gentleman was brought to the same hospital.
And they put him on another bed, and began to try to discover what his
sickness could be.
After a little time one of the doctors met another doctor, and they
“That nice old gentleman over there,” he said. “Do you know what’s wrong
with him? He’s almost dead for the need of food. A very proud old man, I
think. He told me he has had nothing to eat for three days.”