Growing up, Thanksgiving was not so much about people. It was about food. Every year, we left after school on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and drove from Tallahassee to Lakeland where my mom’s parents lived. There were no other kids–no cousins–until I was about 13, when one came along finally. So my brother and I just listened to Walkmans and tried to stay out of the way, while our mouths watered over the magic happening in that tiny little 1950s kitchen.
I’d like to say I remember conversations…or specific Thanksgiving foods. I’m sure it was all delicious. I was probably too finicky to really appreciate it all. What I do remember is the daily slow-cooked-in-bacon-grease scrambled eggs and the triple-layer, totally homemade and scrumptious chocolate cake. Oh my. Their equal has not been found. I will continue to search for the rest of my life.
But somewhere along the way, Thanksgiving began to morph into something bigger than scrambled eggs and chocolate cake, which I’m well aware are not standard Thanksgiving food staples. It began to become about the things and the people I am thankful for.
One of my fondest Thanksgiving memories was November 24, 1995. Todd’s parents were living in Concord, NC on a contract for Frank’s job. We decided to drive up to be with them and take everyone along. In a 1970s, horrible, hideously ugly, brown-striped Toyota minivan, 7 people piled in. It was my mom and dad, Todd, his sister, Kelley, my brother and his then-fiancee who is now his awesome wife. I know my parents are going to take me to task on my choice of words about that van. I only call it like I see it. They never rode in any seat but the front. They don’t know the sorrow. Actually, though I am technically complaining, that trip wouldn’t have been as funny or as memorable if we hadn’t had the knock-down, drag-out arguments over who would have to sit next to the flesh-eating mini blinds or who would sit in the middle seat of the middle row with their legs hiked up under their chin because that’s where Toyota decided the engine should go. Inside the car…with some ugly ole carpet over it. Good idea, boys. Really.
It was a 12 hour trip. We passed around a laptop, which was cutting edge in 1995, and played Links golf and Tetris. Good times. Halfway to NC, I began running a fever. I don’t remember much about the next few days. I remember being thankful we were all together. And some of what I was thankful for, I wrote down. During those early days, we kept a “thankful book” that we wrote in every year. More on that in a minute.
The next memory that stands out in my mind is Thanksgiving of 2007, when we booked a large house in north Alabama and spent the week in Joe Wheeler State Park with Todd’s parents, and Kelley’s family. The house was just one notch above haunted. It was in no way nice. It was super large and rambled on forever, giving us plenty of space to spread out and sleep everyone. But it didn’t have a fireplace, it DID come with a million house flies(think Plagues of Egypt or Alfred Hitchcock), and was old and drafty. That being said, however, it was on a river, set on a hill, and surrounded by fall color that was hanging on just for us, I believe. And we could walk out of our house and play a wild game of football in a field of crunchy yellow leaves. And when our electricity went out due to weather, there was a lodge across the park that served us a fine buffet with every color of Jello imaginable. For the toddlers among us, it was the little things. It was the Jello buffet. Those were good times.
I have more to be thankful for than you will want to read. I will probably write more on that tomorrow. On November 24, 1995, I wrote this little poem, which is kinda corny. I’m going to type it up anyway, because it reflects where I was that year and where I am now.
This year, more than any other, I am thankful.
On my knees, I am thankful.
My blessings are a mysterious November wind that swirls around me and can be breathed.
They are dried autumn leaves that carpet the earth in a mosaic of color and can be walked through.
I am thankful for the blessing of forgiveness, the providence of God, for second chances.
I thank God for the family I was given,
For family I have found,
I am thankful for afternoon rainstorms,
For the first, white crescent moon that hangs like a rocking chair in the sky,
For the scent of a fire.
I thank God for twilight, for quiet evenings, for hugs, for the smile of a friend, for worn pathways between familiar doorways, for laughter, for unbroken promises, for hope.
Most of all, I am thankful that as I walk across this carpet of color, surrounded by God’s gifts, I cannot see the end.
Back to 2011… That was a little too corny even for me, but it was true. And I didn’t have a single child then. I didn’t know that love. I didn’t know that gratitude.
I didn’t know what a sloppy mess i’d make when my cup ran over as it has. And I didn’t know the many ways God would hold me up over the next 16 years and keep that cup full. Always. He has never not been there. How does one say thank you for THAT?
On that note, I’m going to bed. I will post 2011’s version tomorrow.
Be thankful. There are reasons to be. Always.