Betty Bayé / The Courier-Journal / Louisville KY
I'll huff and puff and I'll blow your house down. That's what the big, bad wolf said to scare the three little pigs the wolf hoped to have as his dinner that day.
The first two little pigs had reason to be afraid. They'd built their houses quickly and haphazardly out of sticks and straw that wouldn't withstand the intrusions of a big, bad wolf.
But the third little pig was nobody's fool. Mindful that a hungry wolf, with bacon and pork chops on his mind, might show up one day, the third little pig took his time and built his house with bricks. His two pig cousins played and laughed at him for his diligence on the job.
What the third little pig knew, however, is that a poorly built house wouldn't survive in a neighborhood so close to where a pack of wolves also lived.
So when the big bad wolf huffed and puffed, he couldn't blow the brick house down. And when the wolf tried to be slick and come down the chimney, his tail caught on fire. Barely escaping with his life, the wolf did a wise thing: He left that little pig in his strong brick house alone.
How old were you when you first heard some version of "The Three Little Pigs"? Likely not old enough to know of any such thing as pig psychology, or that the story of the three little pigs had motives beyond entertainment, as is true for children's stories in general.
I remember very well some pig friends of mine who laughed and talked about me when, several years after high school, I decided to go to college. They said it was a big waste of time and snickered behind my back that I'd never graduate.
They thought they knew me. We did have much in common. We were black, all of us were poor, and all of us lived either in the projects or the tenements across the street.
But what my pig friends didn't know, and what I'm not sure even I knew at the time, was that despite what they saw on the outside, my inner-spirit was much more akin to the third little pig. I'd either read somewhere, or somebody had told me, that I could build a sturdy house that a big, bad wolf wouldn't find easy to huff and puff and blow down.
To be sure, I had a lot of help. I had parents who loved me unconditionally and who assured me in all kinds of ways that I could do anything but fail. And my family's support was supplemented by members of my church family.
Then, when I was 21, I had the help of a mentor, who told me I was smart and who nagged me to go to college. Years later, during my final year of undergraduate school, my support system grew to include a wonderful professor who liked my writing and who encouraged me to go to Columbia University's graduate school of journalism.
Now, my parents, Professor James Aronson and many of the others who helped me make the bricks, mix my mortar and haul my bricks to build my sturdy house have moved on to higher ground. I miss them terribly, especially on Thanksgiving.
I'm thankful that what I've tried to make of myself, I didn't have to do all alone. I'm thankful for all who saw in me what I'm not ashamed to admit I didn't always see in myself.
I'm thankful for all who saw the wolves circling my door, who kindly lent a hand and assured me that, just as we often say in church, trouble, no matter how bad, doesn't last always. The story of the "Three Little Pigs" teaches that it's crucial to build one's house out of materials that will last, and not sticks and straw. But life teaches us also to consider where we should sit our houses down.
That's one of the great lessons of Hurricane Katrina, I think. Even a sturdy house won't survive if it's put up in an environment where no houses of any sort can safely be built.
And whether it's this year, next year or the year after that, there comes a time in every life when there'll be a wolf at the door threatening to blow the house down.
So, on this day, let's bless our tables groaning under the weight of fat turkeys and all the trimmings. And give thanks for all our blessings over the years.
Let us also bless family members and friends who are absent from our tables this year, some of them for the first time, who blessed us with their wisdom while they were here. Who taught us our faith and taught us how to pray. Who helped us to shape our values and our outlooks, not only with children's stories like "Three Little Pigs," but also with the real life stories that we never tire of hearing about members of our own families -- their stories of love, hope, courage, suffering and redemption.
Betty Winston Bayé's columns appear on Thursdays. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.