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