Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Giving thanks, in advance

I extend my fondest holiday hopes to you all, today, because I will not have a column next week. Next week I will be devoting my time and energies to friends and family, and, also, since my column is usually run on Fridays, I wanted to be sure everybody receives my warm wishes for a happy Thanksgiving Day before the day is past.

Thanksgiving comes close to being my favorite holiday. Of course, the food is one of the greater elements, but -- honestly! -- not the most important. It is the day of some of my fondest memories from childhood, of family and friends gathering around a table and enjoying each other’s company. Thanksgiving Day is the day of peace and goodwill for all Americans. We would, in fact, offer it to anybody else who is interested.

When I was a little girl, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my family would pack up all we would need for a long weekend, load it into the family van on Wednesday morning, and then, at the end of Wednesday’s short school-day (wherein we always held a pageant, of sorts, to relive the day when the Pilgrims and the Indians sat together and trusted one another), we kids would be picked up from school and we’d all hie ourselves immediately for the family farm, four hours away, singing, “Over the river and through the woods...”.

The next day, the whole farmhouse would be filled with people -- relatives, friends, strangers, even the occasional old foe. The oval oak table, with its many leaves, was set with the best lace tablecloth and the good china and silver for any and all who would celebrate with us. It would have been a cold day in the underworld were Grandma Helen and Grandpa Cecil to allow somebody to be cut out from this celebration of abundance and amity.

As we grew, the family scattered farther afield. The farm was sold. Still, we had the old oak table, and therefore, the incumbent festive responsibilities.

Our college used to end its fall term the week before Thanksgiving, and not resume with its second term until early January. Usually, there were students who could not travel all the way to and from home during that break, so they were invited to join our family for the feast. Most of our guests were from foreign lands, experiencing this American family tradition for the first -- and in a few cases, the only -- time. We did our best to make them a part of our home, and they reciprocated.

After all these years, even with the table laden with all the traditional foods,Thanksgiving Day would show a poor harvest if there were no crowd of guests at the table. We give thanks for our bounty, as the saying goes, and our greatest bounty is of fellowship.

For all of that, though, we can not ask any among us at our table to enumerate the things for which we are thankful. How, it is asked, can you count grains of sand on the beach, drops of water in the ocean, stars in the sky? Even of those things for which we are most thankful, the count might take half the day. And, to choose only the big things is to deny that the little things are what make the bigger gifts the blessings they are. A breath of clean air, a glimpse of blue sky on a cloudy day, a cardinal singing in the tree, an out-of-season rose blossom might bring a momentary joy, which then opens the heart to companionship, family, tranquility. Sorrow’s dam, once cracked, will allow laughter to rush through one’s life. To stop to count the droplets individually might cause one to step aside and miss the inundation.

So, to all of you as the holiday approaches, I offer my humblest thanks for your patience in reading my words. I hope you, also, in giving your own thanks, have too many things to count, and that this holiday will be one of many days of joy and prosperity to come.

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