CornucopiaOne of my earliest Thanksgiving memories is staring at this funny basket on my Great Aunt Ruth’s table. It didn’t really stand up and it didn’t really hold all the fruits that spilled out around it. Now what kind of a basket was that?

“Aunt Ruth, your basket is broken.”

“No, it’s a cornucopia; that’s what it’s supposed to look like.”

Being seven or eight, I missed the explanation and was enthralled by the sound of the word. My twin sister and I looked at each other in one of those here’s another great word moments. Corn-u-cope-eeee-a. And the chant was on, much to my aunt’s amusement.

World Book Encyclopedia, the reference book of choice in our house in the 1950s and a copy of The First Thanksgiving book brought more information. The cornucopia, or horn of plenty, was a symbol of abundance and nourishment, usually a large horn-shaped container overflowing with fruits, vegetables, flowers, or nuts. It’s been around for ages, literally. Greek and Roman gods were familiar with it.

Amalthea, the goat goddess who fed Zeus with her milk, had one of her horns broken by him, which then had divine power to provide unending nourishment. Other Greek and Roman gods were associated with harvest, prosperity, or spiritual abundance–and cornucopias.

In most of North America, the cornucopia is associated with Thanksgiving and the harvest. Two cornucopias are seen in the flag and state seal of Idaho. The Great Seal of North Carolina depicts Liberty standing and Plenty holding a cornucopia. The coat of arms of Colombia, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, and the Coat of Arms of the State of Victoria, Australia, also feature the cornucopia, symbolizing prosperity and plenty.*

Horn of plenty. Plenty of what? Fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts. In my entire life I had never lacked for food. Hunger and starvation happened “over there” or “in poor parts of the US.” Today I know many cornucopias are barely filled, “over there” and here.

It was in fifth grade that I learned to personalize a cornucopia. Mrs. Horner, the teacher who lived in our neighborhood and actually brought out cookies and milk when we knocked at her side door to say hi, did some Socratic questioning.

When the November bulletin board was being created with “Pilgrims and Indians,” she asked, “Why is it that your cornucopia is full and others are empty?” “What else is in your horn of plenty?” After smiling indulgently to answers of Dots, Turkish Taffy, Chiclets, Chuckles, spaghetti, and pizza, she put a really big cornucopia on her desk. Then she started putting in things from our desks! My pencil, Nancy’s sweater from the back of her chair, Leon’s used gum. And we were off. “Take my shoe.” “Here’s Mike’s lunch box.”

When she drew a heart and dropped it in, we went from concrete to abstract, tangible to intangible. Larry drew two people kissing–he was always into kissing. Scraps of fifth grade artistic sketches floated into the basket–rain, snow, cars, hugs, and friends. Sunbathing, sleeping, reading. Safety, love, health, being happy.

Last Thursday, as I left my writing group at Atria Bell Court Gardens, the cornucopia on the piano caught my eye. The sunlit splash of yellow and gold leaves around it was striking. I stopped to take a picture and stayed to stare. And think. What’s in my cornucopia? It surely is overflowing. For starters–food, a safe and beautiful home, TV, phone, laptop–all the digital connections, a solid and what I like to think of as an open-minded education, the ability to think objectively and yet feel emotionally, a loving and understanding mate, an abundance of friends, family members who are happy and loving, my good health, freedom to share my love and friendship with others.

I’m filling my cornucopia. I’m also sharing it with neighbors, and strangers, i.e., friends I haven’t met yet.

What’s in your cornucopia?

*Wikipedia has taken the place of The World Book Encyclopedia in my house.

Ethel Lee-Miller is a Tucson writer, public speaker, and author of Seedlings, Stories of Relationships, and Thinking of Miller Place. She will be giving thanks with family and friends starting this Thursday.