Thanksgiving on Fort Myers Beach


    The tradition of Thanksgiving really got wheels right after the Civil War, when President Lincoln needed to find ways to heal all the broken families in a fractured America.   He promoted the idea of ‘The Pilgrims’ and ‘The Indians’ sitting down together and sharing a feast, to evoke images of disparate folks breaking bread together and so forth.  All of us in the States have grown up with that version of what happened in Massachusetts back in 1621, from the viewpoint of the Pilgrim.  Direct descendants of the Wampanoag, who lived in the area at the time and are ‘The Indians’ in the pictures and history books, do not dispute that there was a feast held by the settlers to celebrate a good harvest and that their forefathers were there, but the Native American perspective on what happened is a bit different.

    In 2012, Gale Courey Toensing interviewed Ramona Peters, the Mashpie Wampanoag Tribe’s Preservation Officer (the entire interview can be found at “What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving?  The Wampanoag Side of the Tale”).

    If you grew up in New England, especially Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where that first Thanksgiving took place, you probably heard bits and pieces of this version of the history.  It’s a fairly short, but informative read.

    One take-away:  it’s good to give thanks for the blessings in our lives, whatever they may be.

    Walking around The Time Square/Old San Carlos neighborhood the Monday before Thanksgiving are people of all shapes and sizes and colors – families, couples, the occasional swarm of teenagers giggling and cavorting, and folks draped along the wall next to Lynn Hall Park and on every available bench. With the uptick of visitors, one might assume they are all here to celebrate Thanksgiving.  But we found several couples – from Germany, Sweden and South America – who of course do not celebrate this uniquely American holiday and none of whom had any plans involving turkey.  But everyone else we spoke with certainly does.

    Thanksgiving on Fort Myers BeachFor instance, Lori Lehman.  A recent transplant from Ohio, we found her on a break, soaking up the sun on the front steps of the Sandal Factory.  She shares this sentiment about the holiday. “Thanksgiving is about giving thanks; being grateful for the blessings in your life.”

    Waiting to greet customers at The Sunset Beach Tropical Grill, Kathy Doherty was full of smiles when she talked about her plans with her boyfriend, and is really looking forward to a day of food and fun.Thanksgiving on Fort Myers Beach

    On a bench near the foot of the pier, we found a gentleman named Ray Roy, with a little fluff of a dog curled up at his feet.  “What’s your dog’s name?” we ask.

    THanksgiving on Fort Myers BeachAt first a bit reticent to talk with this stranger, the question breaks through to the humor and affability of this man.  “Fifi”, he chuckles, perhaps at the irony of this quite handsome and robust man having a little dog named Fifi.  Will he celebrate Thanksgiving?  “Oh yes, just the two of us,” meaning himself and his wife, with whom he oversees a dynasty of eight kids, and a slew of grands and great-grands, none of whom can make it down to Fort Myers Beach this year.  “We will have a traditional Thanksgiving meal,” Ray assures us with a warm smile.

    Thanksgiving on Fort Myers BeachWe found Cookie Stivison, a part-time beach/Ohio resident, outside of Kilwin’s.  When asked what Thanksgiving means to her, she says with no hesitation, “Family.  Getting together with family.”  Indicating the six people with her, we assume this is her whole family.  “Oh no, this isn’t all of them,” and they all laugh in agreement with her.  “These are four of my twelve grandchildren.  This is my son-in-law, and we’re waiting for my daughter Jackie.”  When Jackie arrives, and the family sorts themselves for a picture, Cookie says, “Thanksgiving is about being with family, and giving thanks, being grateful, for life’s blessings.”

    Parked on Old San Carlos Boulevard near the fountain next to Nervous Nellie’s, we found Bill Stout, an officer in the town’s B.A.S.E. (Beach and Street Enforcement) operation.

    Thanksgiving on Fort Myers BeachHe has plans for Thanksgiving.  “My wife works for Family Services, so she will be there all day, serving dinner to those folks.  I have the day off.”  But Bill has filled his Thanksgiving dance card.  “I’m going out to dinner with some friends. He adds, “Then we’re going to watch football,” said with a big grin.  Bill sums up what is most meaningful to him about Thanksgiving.  “Family, football and leftover turkey.  There is literally nothing as good as leftover turkey.”

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone.


    Jo List