My dad had a theory that you could measure how Baptist a person was by counting the number of times they said “Just” while asking the blessing before a big meal. Like this would score pretty high on the Baptist-o-meter:
(with every head bowed and every eye closed)
Lord, we just ask that you just look down on us Lord and just bless this food that is just such a blessing. Just help us remember, Lord, just how very blessed we are to just have what we need. We just praise you Lord….(continue for 12 minutes)
Now, now…to all my Baptist leaning friends, please don’t get your noses out of joint. In our family, we make fun of all peoples, of all faiths, in equal measure. We even did it a little when Grandmama Eunice was alive. But not when she was in earshot.
Speaking of Grandmama Eunice, I think she was the source of the standard blessing that Daddy used: “Lord make us thankful for these and all our many blessings. Bless this food to our bodies and us to your service, Amen.” No matter how much extemporizing the blesser did, they always brought the blessing to a close with these lines.
Over the years, asking the blessing got to be more and more special to Daddy. We all gather up in the kitchen or around the dining room table. Sometimes we hold hands and sometimes we just try to keep the kids in line. (See that just sneaking in there? Raised Baptist!) Daddy would say a few words about how lucky we were to be comfortable in life and the duty we owed to those who weren’t as lucky. His blessings always celebrated our family and the deep love we shared for each other. If it had been an especially tough year for one of us, he would say thanks that it was over and we were all still together. There was the blessing that remembered Richard when he was in the hospital. The blessing that welcomed Brett back home after she got her life straight. Last year, he said a blessing of thanks that he had made it through a bad health scare.
About fifty percent of the time, he’d get choked up. And that led to one of the most enduring stories in our family lore and it’s the thing I’m thinking about as we head towards this first Thanksgiving without Daddy saying the blessing before dinner.
For a few good years, when the nephews were small, we set aside one autumn weekend to take the whole fam-damn-ily to Callaway Gardens. Piled in together in one big villa, we’d cook and tell stories and laugh and jump in the leaves and let the kids stay up late.
The villa had a long dining table, big enough to hold all of us. Before we sat down to feast on tenderloin from the grill, Daddy asked the blessing. Halfway through, he started to get emotional and took a second to compose himself. All of the adults stayed quiet, but tiny little Grant, who was about three, piped up in a very loud whisper, “Papa’s cryin’ like a BABY!”
Daddy loved that story. We had a reason to tell it again quite often, pretty much every time we got together.
I don’t know who will ask the blessing this year. Probably Joe, or Brett, maybe even Grant, who is tall and gracious and clever (still). I know we’ll all cry like babies. That’s just the way it’s going to be.
But in the midst of sorrow, may we be thankful for these and all our many blessings. Grief is the price of love.