Editorial (opinion): The best thing ever written by a CT governor?

Gov. Wilbur Cross

Gov. Wilbur Cross

Contributed photo

A little piece of poetry, at a very dark moment in this state.

If we think this is a dark age, imagine November 1936. Jobless men were selling apples in the streets. There was no such thing as an unemployment check. Banks were failing, taking deposits with them.

In that dire time, a Connecticut governor wrote a Thanksgiving message that is still being read at some dinner tables. Forty years after he wrote it, Gov. Ella Grasso would call it “a masterpiece of eloquence.” Its consoling words are worth pondering in these pandemic times.

Wilbur L. Cross had just retired from teaching English at Yale when, at age 68, he won the governor’s race in 1930. The following year, he started writing short, poetic public announcements for the Thanksgiving holidays.

Here is how his 1936 Thanksgiving Proclamation begins — not as a listing of the awful deprivations of the Depression, but as a late-afternoon stroll.

“Time out of mind,” he wrote, “at this turn of the seasons when the hardy oak leaves rustle in the wind and the frost gives a tang to the air and the dusk falls early and the friendly evenings lengthen under the heel of Orion, it has seemed good to our people to join together in praising the Creator and Preserver, who has brought us by a way that we did not know to the end of another year.”

Another Yale professor, William Zinsser, would include this 1936 proclamation in his bestselling book “On Writing.” Zinsser praised its “homely” words and said that it “echoes with truths that we know in our bones.” He gave thanks for language “gracefully used for the public good.” So do we.

Once again, we’re brought to the end of a year “by a way we did not know.” We have suffered the loss of loved ones to COVID-19. We’re anxious and lonely, sequestered too long in our homes.

And yet back in 1936, at an even worse time, Gov. Cross proclaimed gratitude for the blessings “that have been our common lot” and that “placed our beloved state with the favored regions of earth.”

Connecticut is indeed a favored region of earth. It can be hard, in this plague year, to remember just how favored we are. We are 72 percent fully vaccinated. Most of us have jobs, and those who don’t have government help. Older folks get Social Security benefits, which weren’t available until 1937, the year after this proclamation. Medicare benefits would take another 30 years to arrive.

And so this lovely benediction — “a Thanksgiving classic,” proclaimed the Pulitzer, and it should know, since it judges a lot of essays — deserves a fresh look every Thanksgiving in Gov. Cross’s beloved state, as do the oak leaves and Orion.