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The first Thanksgiving family feud

Even John Alden knew evils of getting together with in-laws

Historians agree that the Pilgrims really did celebrate a first Thanksgiving. But it wasn’t turned into a regular yearly celebration until Abraham Lincoln made it official during the middle of the Civil War, some 250 years later. New documents have come to light that may explain why.

“Never again,” writes John Alden in a letter found in a newly discovered cache of papers composed by the original passengers of the Mayflower.

“Six long hours we have spent looking at the hind end of a horse on the overly crowded road to the house of my parents and lo, for what? To see my brother with whom I barely speak and his harpy wyfe who so disrespecteth me and mine in a backhanded way?

“He starteth acting like a wee childe immediately, from the time we stepped from the carriage until the time we have departed. He bringeth up small jealousies and grievances from our youth long ago. His unhappiness is like a contagion, a pustule that never heals. ‘Letteth it go and getteth a life,’ he has made me wish to scream, and more times than one. We should be spending less time together, not more, me thinks.”

“One unpleasantry follows another as I suffer my uncles and aunts to runneth on and on about my cousins -- how well they are doing, how much money they are sending to their parents, what comely grandchildren they have produced. Yet I knoweth these same cousins. They are base and low and would soil themselves if they were ever made to do a day’s work.

“They wish their parents dead and spend their days making plans to squander their inheritance in a warmer clime. Their small children understandeth not the meaning of the word ‘no.’ They runneth around and screameth all day when peace and quiet are called for. The spawn of Satan himself would make more pleasant company.

“And my handsome wyfe cares not for the way my mother prepareth the meal. ‘She useth not oysters in the fowl’s stuffing,’ she rails at me. ‘She putteth not the bird in a paper bag in the hearth.’ It maketh me fatigued to hear such words. Yet Priscilla’s own stuffing would not winneth any praise even in the land of my birth, where they can taste not the difference between condiment and composte. She knoweth not, but secretly I giveth my portions of her bounty to the hound beneath the table. It teacheth him not to beg.

“My wyfe speaks ill of none, yet I can tell from the bearing of her body that she would rather be ducking witches on a cold day in December than be in the company of my family and their offspring. As if her family be a barrel of salted fish. Her sisters make it well known that their spouses buy them more kitchen tools than I do and that the corn from their labor is bigger and better than that of my own. They maketh my head hurt. Were they not aboard, the journey of the Mayflower could have been as a fun ship cruise. With them, it was the hate boat. Had the voyage lasted but one week more, ‘twas they who were going over the side or ‘twas I.

“It occurred to me suddenly that we may have left the woodstove on at home. Priscilla volunteered that it may be true as she had often noticed my forgetful habits. Happily, we fled the festivities. On the road home we spoke not to each other for many hours. ‘Let us hope we can do this again next year,’ at last I spoke. It got a hearty laugh as Priscilla knew I was in perfect jest. In truth, you could not make us do that again were four hundred years to pass. And for that, we gave thanks.”


Jim Mullen’s newest book is called “Kill Me, Elmo: The Holiday Depression Fun Book.” You can reach him at

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