Sam Venable  

Special Contributor

Since this is the time of year to be thankful, I propose a hearty hip-hip-hooray for the people behind the scenes. They always seem to get left out when the attaboys are dispensed.

Say you’re at a fine restaurant, and the experience has been exceedingly favorable. The prime rib was simply delicious, the best you’ve ever tasted. The service was beyond compare. Happily, you add a handsome tip to your check and make it a point to tell the waiter to please extend compliments to the chef.

Huh? That’s all?

What about the dishwasher who scrubbed yesterday’s cheesecake from your fork?

Or the laborer who harvested the lettuce and tomatoes for your salad?

Or the builder who took 2-by-4s, nails, drywall, carpet, and wire and turned a drab, ordinary room into a beautiful dining hall?

Or the engineer who designed the machine that runs your Visa card? (Hmm. On second thought, strike that last compliment. This time of year, I wish the people who invented credit card machines had sought a different line of work. By mid-January, my mild displeasure with them will have soured into downright bitterness. Nonetheless, I think you see what I mean.)

It’s easy to gripe when things go wrong. Easy, nothing; it’s the American way! And it doesn’t matter if we have plunked down $4 for a screwdriver or $2,000 for a high-def TV. If the product turns out to be a dud, we not only expect our money back, we also want a free sample of the item, not to mention a hank of hair from the person at the complaint desk.

But what happens when it works properly—which, if we’re honest, is most of the time? Do we ever stop to think about the humans whose genius and skill created an item so important to our lives? Usually not.

I began pondering this notion a couple of Novembers ago while hunting pheasants in southern Iowa. If you’re wondering how such a deep philosophical matter could penetrate my pea brain in the midst of 80 acres of picked corn, so am I. Maybe I’d been walking too long in the bright sunshine.

Anyhow, I was carrying a favorite shotgun, a lightweight little over-and-under 20 gauge that I have owned for more than three decades. It fits me like a sock and is one of the few guns I can shoot with relative accuracy.

This is not an expensive firearm. Newspaper columnists cannot afford fancy toys unless they happen to be married to the publisher’s daughter. Which I’m not.

But as I walked through the corn rows and briar patches and watched the bird dogs do their thing, the thought struck me that I would dearly love to meet the people who designed and constructed the very gun I was carrying.

For all I know, this montage of metal and wood represented nothing more than a 9-to-5 proposition for them: one more unit down the assembly line and don’t let up till the whistle blows.

But I doubt it. Several craftsmen surely took pride in shaving a block of raw steel into a receiver and carving a blank of walnut into a stock. For that I am thankful.

I’d like to shake their hands in gratitude and tell them how much pleasure I’ve received from their labors through the years. I’d like to sit down with them at the end of the day and peel off my boots and sip a cold beer and swap hunting tales. And I got to thinking that maybe we’d all have a brighter disposition if we took the time to thank—or at least think about—the nameless, faceless people behind the scenes who make such positive influences on our lives.

I missed the next pheasant I shot at with that little gun. Both barrels. Once at close range, once going away.

Big deal. When it comes to gratitude, the people who sell ammunition must be brimming with thanks for folks like me.

Sam Venable is an author, stand-up comedian, and humor columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at .