Friday, November 15, 2013

Giving Thanks

The table is set with the finest, and the feast is laid; there is turkey, and sometimes ham.  Generally, you can find a selection of potatoes mashed, scalloped and au gratin.  Green bean casserole is always a favorite, and we must have buttery rolls, rich gravy, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.  Often there are sweet potatoes with gooey marshmallows browned and melting on top, and a variety of pies, pecan, pumpkin, and apple to name just a few.  We gather with family and/or friends, and sometimes even our pets.  There are parades and sporting events on the television to entertain us, and overall it is a time and a space to eat our fill and then take a late afternoon nap drifting away as some of the younger family members play games or just chat and catch up on life.  Thanksgiving is a time we stop and say thank you for the blessings in our lives.  And this is just one of many scenarios that are played out in America on the fourth Thursday of November. 

However, for many people, this is just another day.  For many there isn’t enough money or food to fully set a feast.  Maybe our family doesn’t get along, or we find ourselves alone.  Maybe there is a crisis going on and we find we are away from family, friends.   

One Thanksgiving Day when I was a child I remember watching two boxes of frozen turkey dinners, the kind in a little compartmentalized tray, slowly making their way down the conveyor belt at the grocery store checkout.  They were just right about eye level with me, and I watched as they slowly made their way to the clerk who punched the prices into the cash register, took my father’s money and placed the boxes in a paper sack.  I don’t remember much being said.  Did the woman think it strange that an older man and a young girl were buying frozen turkey dinners on Thanksgiving Day rather than having a turkey dinner with all the trimmings with family? 

My mother was in the hospital, and while daddy took care of me well, he was by no means the primary caretaker of little girls.  Mom had many health issues when I was little, and from the somber tone, although I am sure I was not fully informed on everything going on, it seemed pretty serious.  I remember it was a cold, gray, drizzly day and dad was trying to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving.  The problem was it just didn’t seem like a festive day.  There were no traditions kept or relatives to see.  There were no dishes to do or ignore.  We had frozen turkey dinners and went to visit mom in the hospital.

Since then, I have given some thought as to the purpose of Thanksgiving.  Originally, it was a time to thank God for the harvest and for the settlers’ good friends, the Native Americans, who kept them alive in a strange new land.  It was a religious moment when we could give thanks as the scriptures instruct “in all circumstances.”  That day as a child, I remember my father bowing his head and giving thanks to God for all God’s mercies.  That day I began a journey that took years to travel of understanding how to give God thanks in all circumstances.

Any more Thanksgiving is more of a secular holiday than religious.  A day off work, a day to feast, watch football and parades, a day to visit relatives, some you may never see (or really want to) at any other time.  But in my heart it will always be a memory of my father bowing his head over a frozen turkey dinner thanking God for God’s mercies.  This Thanksgiving I would encourage you to give thanks in all circumstance and to lift a prayer of petition for those who may not be celebrating as you might – those who are hungry or thirsty – those who are sick or in prison – those who live impoverished lives – those who are isolated or alone – those who need love or reconciliation.  Pray for those who God loves and many times we forget, and give thanks.

This originally appeared in my column of the November 2010 issue of The Corridor.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Tribute to My Mother

As I did with my Daddy, below is what I said at the celebration of my Mother's life.

My mother was born November 3, 1928—she would have been 85 tomorrow.  She grew up in Rockwood, Texas, which is little more than a ghost town now.  Mother would take me there when we would visit my Aunt Ludy Jane in a nearby town every summer.  We would go to Rockwood to visit the graves of her parents, Ludy and Rutilla Crutcher, and my mother’s brother, Gail, who died of polio as a baby.  We would stop at a store that had Big Red soda and Moon Pies, and Mother would visit and catch up on the local news while I had a treat.  

When she was twenty she worked at a five and dime store in Coleman, Texas.  It is at this store that Vernon Norris, my daddy, stopped by on his way through from California to Eastland, Texas where his family lived.  He met my mother, and asked her out for a soda after she got off work.  He journeyed on to Eastland, and when he got there, he mailed her back an engagement ring.  On February 25, 1949 at the age of 20, mother married daddy, and the following year she had my sister, Dorinda, and three years later my brother, Darrell, was born.  Mom and dad moved as work took him from the Houston area to Oklahoma when he was transferred to Tinker Air Force Base.  I came along when they lived in Midwest City.

Mother was primarily a homemaker, but worked outside the home occasionally as well.  She worked at what was once called Continental Plastics now Carlisle Food Service Products on Lincoln Boulevard.  She made Bains Marie, the round plastic food storage tubs, but for the life of me I always thought she said Bangmarie, and you know when you google that you cannot find it. 

She also worked at Dairy Queen (one of my favorite places), at Nicoma Park Junior High and other Choctaw-Nicoma Park schools and at Country Estates Elementary in the kitchen.  Yes, my mother was a lunch lady.  And in later years she was a private duty nurse.

We were raised in church.  I think I was born on a Friday and in the nursery at church a week and two days later.  When I was growing up it seemed to be just what we did on Sunday morning.  In fact, it was odd that one Sunday morning we got up and Mother said we were not going to church because she had a bad dream about Darrell.  As it turned out, he had been in an accident in Texas, and we left that morning to go get him.  She had those premonitions on occasions. 
When I was eight, I received this Bible, a Children’s Living Bible.  On the presentation page it says, presented to me by after which it reads, “love and prayers and best wishes, Mother and Daddy.”  And should I be confused as to who that is she wrote, “Edith and Vernon Norris.” 

She would always write in the covers of books she gave me.  I think Dorinda and I discovered our great love of books from her.  In the case of this Bible, which has seen its fair share of wear and tear as you can see, she wrote where to find scripture passages in her beautiful flowing script.  She had impeccable penmanship.  She also wrote this inscription:
“Sonja, always let God have his way in your life.  Hide his word in your heart.  Let your life shine for Christ always, and you will receive many blessings from God.”
What do you know, she was right.  Of course, me being me had to discover that on my own. 

The mother I had as a child is the mother I remember today.  The one who tucked me in at night as we said prayers.  Who I thought was the most beautiful woman in the world.  She was the one who for better or worse—and we had plenty of both—loved me and I her.

Today I envision the picture of my mother and daddy on their wedding day.  A beautiful young woman about to embark on the grand adventure that is life.  Not knowing what lay ahead, but she smiled that beautiful smile anyway.  She always did have a beautiful smile right up to the very end. 

My Sister, Brother, and I along with our families would like to express our appreciation of your thoughts and prayers during these past couple of weeks.  It has meant a lot to us and we thank you for your presence here today to celebrate Mother’s life.