Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Make Us Thankful

A Thanksgiving memory: Little Gay, Me, Joe, Beth, Jake...and that's Grant in the front. Mr. Enthusiasm!

Thanksgiving many years ago: Little Gay, Me, Joe, Beth, Jake…and that’s Grant in the front. Mr. Enthusiasm!

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.

Mr. Enthusiasm strikes again! Grant and Jackson at Callaway Gardens.

Mr. Enthusiasm strikes again! Grant and Jackson at Callaway Gardens.

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.

This picture has nothing to do with the story, but it's my favorite picture of Grant.

This picture has nothing to do with the story, but it’s my favorite picture of Grant.

 

 

The Least of These: Refugees and Thanksgiving

I went to bed last night filled to weeping with what I’d seen on social media about the governor of my state, along with many others, declaring that we would not accept any Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks. I thought of my friend Robin and how she once explained Jesus to me: she just shut her mouth and spread her arms open wide.

That’s what love is supposed to look like. You need shelter, come to me. You need safety, come to me. You need to know you are loved, come to me. We’re becoming a frightened nation with our arms clasped tight. What happened to Lady Liberty–a gift from the French, no less–holding her torch high to light the way?

I am proud to be an American because we are the place of refuge. Our population–unless your folks were First Nations or brought over on a slave ship–is made up of people who sought out America for shelter, or safety, or freedom. Many of those new-made Americans were fleeing horrors. Maybe pogroms or the potato blight or poverty.

I remember going to Ellis Island and walking through the process. Through the long line for validating papers. Up the stairs to the medical check. Then summoned before the desk of the final questioner who made the call as to whether you would proceed forward to the door that led to America or whether you would be put on a boat back. What must that have felt like, to come so far then have the door slammed in your face? No room at the inn.

A family on the road.

A family on the road.

Brace yourselves–the atheist is about to start talking about the Bible and we all have Grandmama Eunice to thank for that. I woke up still thinking about refugees and the verse that came to mind was “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Sorry for the high language. We were raised King James Version, #KJV4Lyf.) Here’s a more modern rendition:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Drop the mic, Jesus. That’s some topical stuff, yo.

What if a terrorist gets in among the refugees? A wolf among the lambs? Yes, that could happen. Or a terrorist could fly in on a student visa. Or take a boat and come in through the coast. Or grow up in Iowa. Or Charleston.

If we slam the door on the people fleeing the very extremists we fear, we aren’t shutting out the terrorists. We’re shutting out the next generation of Americans. The ones who ran for shelter and found it. In my lifetime, that’s included Sudanese, Somalis, Serbs, Iranians, Vietnamese…and a whole lot of our great grandparents and grandparents.

The next part of my day really brought home this idea that America has to keep its arms open. There are two little girls in Carlos’ class who speak Arabic at home. I don’t know how they got here, I don’t know what country they are from. They are here now. They are quiet and watchful. They understand far more English than they speak. After many weeks of hugging them and talking to them and making a fuss over their drawings or puzzles, they have just begun to use single words when we talk. One said, “green” and “yellow” and “whhhhhite” last week when I pointed to colored blocks in the tower she had built.

I won’t use their names because I don’t have permission. I looked up the meaning of each girl’s name in Arabic and I swear Grandmama Eunice thumped me on the head again: one name means “mercy” and the other means “angel.” Angel and Mercy, these little souls I have been lucky enough to meet.

(Jesus picked up the mic and dropped it AGAIN.)

My baby and his turkey hat.

My baby and his turkey hat.

This morning was the Thanksgiving sing-a-long at PreK. I watched Angel and Mercy sit with their classmates in a nice straight row on the gymnasium floor. Each child wore a construction paper turkey hat made from their own handprints. Mercy’s eyes sparkled and she waved when I took her picture. Angel sucked on her finger, like she does when she is nervous.

What are they learning about Thanksgiving? What have we taught them about this quintessentially American holiday? When we are grateful for the bounty we appreciate here. When we remember how the native people of America helped our first set of refugees, fleeing home all those centuries ago.

I may not believe in angels, but I sure believe in mercy. And I open my arms and heart to the least of these, because I am an American.

Making Pie From Pumpkin Guts

I made my first homemade pumpkin pie today. It seemed like the most effcient way to put away Halloween decorations, since I didn’t feel like climbing the ladder into the attic. I took a couple of the small pumpkins off the front steps and roasted them.

Scooping out the seeds and stringy guts of the pumpkins reminded me of a story my friend Edna told 20 years ago. The first time she decided to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, she cut open the pumpkin and all she found inside was that stringy mess…so she picked all the seeds out and used that stuff my kids call the “pumpkin guts” to make her pie. I wish y’all could hear Edna tell this story in her Glenville, Georgia accent. She said, “Welllll, I just kept adding more seasoning and blending it and blending it. It turned out OK, I guess, not too bad.” I think it was one of her sisters who explained to her how you have to cook the pumpkin to get to the part that actually makes the pie. She was trying to make pie out of the part you’re supposed to throw away.

Edna’s story made me smile today, but it also taught me a little lesson. Sometimes we get in a rut and just assume that life is supposed to be THIS hard. That we’re supposed to be making the most out of the stringy guts. That this really is as good as it gets. At the beginning of this year, when I was having so much trouble getting Carlos into an after school program, it turned out that the root of the problem was one person had said one thing to me that was incorrect. When I asked the nice lady behind the desk if after school could make accommodations for my son’s IEP (special ed plan), she said, “Oh, we don’t take kids with special needs. We just don’t have the staff.” Instead of saying, “That can’t be right,” and taking things up a level to her manager, I just assumed that life is supposed to be this difficult when it comes to my boy. And that’s wrong-headed. That’s trying to make pie out of pumpkin guts.

We put so much effort into turning that piddly stuff into a sweet and savory dessert, when the real stuff is so close, right there waiting to be used. Then a friend comes along and says, “Oh, honey! Let me show you a trick.” And you finally learn how pumpkin pie out of pumpkin instead of pumpkin guts. In my case, that whole problem got sorted out because I happened to bump into the principal at the school where Carlos was supposed to be and when she asked me in passing, “How are you today?” I told her the truth–not too good and a little pissed off. She stopped in her tracks and asked if there was any way she could help. I explained that one of her employees had told me that the after school program didn’t take kids with IEPs. She immediately apologized and figured out the employee’s mistake–that student worker had misunderstood. The after school program can’t make accommodations for kids with IEPs, like no student aides or special equipment, but they certainly TAKE kids with IEPs. We got it sorted out in a few minutes and Carlos loves his after school time.

I learned how to make pumpkin pie with PUMPKIN instead of pumpkin guts. I needed a little help with figuring it out, just like Edna. And just like Edna, I was doing my best to make something out of the stringy parts, something that looked like my goal.

Anywho. Vivi decided we should make pumpkin tarts instead of one big pie. I told her to put pecans on top of a few of them. She made faces. I hooted when we pulled them from the oven because they really look like how I feel sometimes:

pies

Make a Resolution To Practice Gratitude

I write about gratitude a lot, and gratitude journals in particular.  Several of you have mentioned starting the practice for yourselves…so how about now?  Why not add gratitude journaling to your New Year’s resolutions?  

This week, when you’re out shopping for gifts for others, wander on over to the bookstore and buy yourself a beautiful journal.  Put it by your bed.  Each night, jot down at least 5 things that you appreciated from that day.  It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence or punctuated or spelled correctly.  This journal is for you.  

Here’s an early blog post called “Gratitude Grows” that I wrote about the stack of journals by my bed.  It’s been growing there since 2004–that explains the dust.  Richard was still alive in the bottom of the stack.  The purple one is from the year we bought this house.  The red one holds the year he died.  I met G and my children higher up.  The stack has grown by one more since I took this picture.  

gratitude fixed

Oda a la Alegría

Oh, this.  This makes my heart thankful.  

It’s a good thing I was the only one in the office Wednesday afternoon, because I clicked this link and within two minutes I was sobbing into a wad of tissues.

Yes, I know it’s an ad for a bank.  Yes, I know it’s a year old.  Yes, I know it’s all staged.  But that doesn’t make it not beautiful.

Take five minutes away from the bustle of today and let yourself travel to this bright town square in Spain.  Let the Ode to Joy start small and let it grow in your chest, let it leak out of your eyes and make your shoulders shake.  It’s joy.  That’s the path joy takes.  Joy doesn’t start with the crescendo.  It begins with a single note.  That’s why it’s hard to spot sometimes in its early stages.

Ode to Joy, from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, is my favorite piece of music, #1, hands down, not even close.  That’s why I chose it for the recessional music when Fartbuster and I got married.  And why I chose it as the recessional music when Richard and I got married.

Then a short while later, his parents and I were planning his memorial service with the priest and there in the list of suggested music for the recessional was “Ode to Joy.” Joy?  At a funeral?

I chose it.  (wait…gotta do some more crying…)

I don’t remember everything from that service, but I do remember the way that music swelled from the organ after all the words had been said.  I remember the soaring sound made by hundreds of our friends and family as they sang the modern English lyrics:  “Ever singing march we onward, Victors in the midst of strife; Joyful music lifts us sunward in the triumph song of life!” I felt a great sense of relief that the service had been perfectly fitting for Richard.  I felt…joy.  Joy at having had that one thing go right.  The music carried me out of the sanctuary and on to the next part of life.

I wish you joy today.  Among all the leftovers and hangovers and overdrafts and overpasses–STOP.  Like those people in the square in Spain, all they had to do was stop and listen to joy.

Now cut me some white meat and pass the cranberry sauce!  

Raising Grateful Children

Image converted using ifftoanyI’m got a Thanksgiving article on Work It, Mom! called “The Attitude of Gratitude” about teaching our children to practice gratitude.  Check it out!

On the day my daughter was born, I wrote seventeen things in my gratitude journal (#1 was “she is here and healthy.”  #2 was “That epidural was NICE.”)  On the day my husband died from leukemia, I wrote twenty-nine things in my gratitude journal.  That certainly doesn’t mean it was a better day; it just goes to show that there are gifts around us even in the darkest times.  The daily practice of gratitude keeps me in that state where I can receive them.