By Kenneth Bates
There are certain things you can count on. Spring follows winter, every dark cloud has a silver lining, and what you give out comes back to you. There are things in life that never change and that you can trust. For us, Thanksgiving was one of those things.
Whether we drove to our relatives’ house or they came to visit us, there was always a lot of people that we hadn’t seen for a long time. Whatever the case, it didn’t matter as long as one of them was our cousin, Mark, who 5 years older than all of us and always full of adventure. We boys were free to play and explore in the morning while the turkey and all the trimmings and special dishes were being prepared. Those explorations worked up our appetites for the big meal. As we got older, our older sisters would return from college, often with a roommate or friend from overseas who had never been to a real Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving dinner was in the early afternoon and was the traditional kind served at the tables of most of our neighbors and friends. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and dozens of casseroles and bread. The only unknown variable was who would get to gnaw on the drumsticks that year.
We knew to gorge on the main meal because we knew what would always come afterward: a long walk in a state park or the neighboring fields. We’d trek out as pairs or in small groups of three or four. In Massachusetts, that time of year would sometimes bring snow or a frigid cold that skimmed the lakes over with ice. The bare trees and brisk air were a stark and beautiful reminder that winter was coming. After a half-hour to an hour of being outdoors (depending on how much we had eaten and how cold it was), we’d return to the warm house with a roaring fire and an endless spread of desserts. Later in our teen years, this was where the real competition began as we would see who could eat the biggest variety of pies!
Although we didn’t always talk about it directly, Thanksgiving was always filled with a pervasive sense of gratitude. We knew we were lucky to have a warm home and a loving family. My parents always reminded us that we were blessed by God’s presence in our family so that we could help others. Dad carried a small silver cross in his change pocket to remind him to talk to others about Jesus. Mom helped out at church and in the community however she could. When my dad would encounter a homeless person on the street, he would usually give him some coins, while saying under his breath, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” He knew that he was not that much different from that other person; he had happily ended up in a better situation not just by his own effort, but by God’s grace and blessing. This attitude of humility and gratitude came out especially on Thanksgiving when none of us could deny how blessed we were.
As the festivities came to a close and we were driving home from our relatives’ house or at home cleaning up the kitchen, something wonderful would happen. Every year like clockwork. Mom would start to sing Christmas carols. Usually starting with “It came upon a Midnight Clear” or “Oh, Holy Night”. We were a singing family, and soon all eight of us would be caroling together. This made it official… the Christmas season was upon us, and we all started to prepare from that moment for the next, even more, beautiful holiday.