That lack of sound you hear is my mind striving to think of a way to express my gratitude for all the areas of my life in which I am so blessed. Here it is, Thanksgiving again in America and that is our appointed season of gratitude. It seems easier these days to give thanks than in times past. That statement confuses even me because to someone looking in from the outside of my life, they might think I have nothing for which to be thankful. They are wrong.
When I was a child and Thanksgiving rolled around, I was grateful to be out of school for four days, grateful for the fun of a pile of fall leaves to jump into and the joy of sitting down to a table with so many of my favorite foods, prepared by my Mom, sisters and I. I think part of my love for this holiday is because it heralds the beginning of the holiday season. Mom would make her cornbread stuffing, and in later years she made two batches so my dear Dad could have his favorite type with oysters in it which the rest of us thought was disgusting. I came to appreciate it as an adult. I was grateful for the odiferous splendor of the roasting turkey, laughing at my Dad picking at uncooked food in the kitchen or opening the oven to grab a piece of turkey skin while my Mom playfully whacked at him with a spoon. “Bill, you get out of here now. That turkey will never get cooked if you keep opening that oven door.”
I remember making turkey center pieces out of large Idaho potatoes by adding a plumed tail of colored feathers cut from autumnal colored construction paper. Cranberry sauce was something that came in a tin can and looked rosy and festive with the rings of the can around it as it was opened and served in a special elongated dish. It always seemed a shame to violate it with a spoon. My mother’s gravy never had floury lumps in it, although it always was giblet gravy with tiny chopped bits of turkey liver and the other giblets along with a fair amount of the delicate meat from the long turkey neck. She always put the giblets and turkey neck on the stove, simmering since early morning when the turkey went into the oven. Mom always cooked her turkey upside down so the juices would flow down into the breast making it moist and tasteful. The odors of crisp turkey skin with the saliva inducing whiffs coming from the stuffing with its combined odors of sage, onions, chopped up water chestnuts and celery. Even now, as I write this many years later I can experience the same sensory sensations of pleasure. Can you smell it, too?
After the turkey came out of the oven and we were nearing the edge of our appetites in anticipation, I recall my dear Dad setting a large tray on the counter beside the turkey. He would fill two large plates with the variety of foods from the stove and Jello salad and a relish tray, previously refrigerated. Helped by my Mom, he loaded that tray to overflowing, never forgetting the pumpkin pie with whipped cream. We all understood that he would take that huge tray of food to an elderly couple he had met through his work as an upholsterer. Mr. and Mrs. Paine, elderly and childless were always included by Dad in all the major holiday meals at our house, for many years. Apparently, they felt more comfortable eating at their home instead of ours and were quite infirmed and began to rely on him to show up on the “tasty” holidays. I suspect he did many things for them all year long, but never knew for certain.
Through that simple, consistent act of giving, Dad taught me to share our abundance. I was often sick as a child growing up and missed a lot of school. Hundreds of strep infections were always returning as I had it so severely the doctor ordered antibiotics and even specially made topical mouthwashes to get the strep bacteria that grew into the roof of my mouth. With all the sicknesses, I never realized as a child how much I had to be thankful for until the year between 11 and 12– years-old when I had to go to bed for a year due to rheumatic fever. I wasn’t frightened until my Dad would come and sit beside my bed, hold my hand and cry. He was such a tender man. I thought, “Boy, I must be pretty sick.”
Both of my parents were wonderful during that time and I remember watching I LOVE LUCY on a TV in my bedroom. That may not seem like much but for that period of time it was huge and Lucy brought laughter into my life. I learned a lot about gratitude during that period of my life. I also learned patience as well as the important healing power of humor. Maybe that was the beginning of the goofy character I have become began to germinate. Laughter in rough times helps.
Once a week, my Dad would carry me out to our Chevy and take me over to the doctor’s office parking lot. The doctor’s nurse would come out to the car, always smiling and take blood from a vein, to check on all my lab work, particularly the sedimentation rate. I was very grateful when the nurse who took blood every week could get into my vein on the first try while I lay in the back of our car in their office parking lot. Sounds so strange to talk about it now but that’s how it was done back then as long as I was on strict bedrest for that year.
My gratitude extended even more to my Mom when I became a teen and learned to be of more help in the kitchen. My sisters were older than I and may or may not be expected for dinner with us as their own families grew or they moved far away. I am grateful today for my Mom’sinstruction, not always tactful or patient but eventually, after I had a home of my own I also became quite a good cook. I think her love for cooking was contagious and I caught it. Thanks Mom, for that and for your strong DNA for gardening and growing plants of all kinds.
As a young woman going off to college, I learned to appreciate my loving home and suffered fierce homesickness my first few monthsaway. It seems that life becomes exponentially more complicated as we grow and brings with it a measure of gratitude. Recognizing those times, while we are going through them, isn’t easy but is the key.
Some of the seasons of gratitude in my own life have been the greatest during times of trouble and need. I’ve come to believe that is why spoiled children aren’t very nice people. It takes a certain leaven of want and/or suffering to cause us to have appreciation. Appreciation is the first cousin of gratitude which is a close relative to thanksgiving.
It fascinates me how pain and misery can be graciously interspersed with thankfulness. Like sunshine in the rainy season, it brightens dark times. Detecting experiences to make one thankful requires an open ended sense of appreciation. It can come to you at the most surprising moments. A woman who is in labor before giving birth can’t have appreciation but when she holds her new child for the first time, she has wonderfully overflowing gratitude; all is well, and labor has ended. A man who is fearful of providing for his family is filled with more appreciation and gratitude than a man who is just moving up the corporate ladder, never knowing the fear of having hungry children. It appears even gratitude is a relative value.
Many of us who suffer chronic pain each day of our lives, often for many years, know how good it can feel when the pain stops, albeit briefly. When the pain is relieved permanently, we often begin to take life for granted and forget to be thankful. Perhaps we try to erase pain from our memories and should instead, hold onto it just enough to appreciate a pain free day. Like a couple in love who direly want to get married and do, they eventually find “the honeymoon is over.” That phrase is part of our lexicon because it is so true. Some things should be remembered. Honeymoons, however, grow into something much deeper and more profound. The depth of love between two people grows even deeper if thanksgiving feeds the hard times and when seasoned with a bit of laughter, understanding and much love.
It appears gratitude and giving thanks is something we need to do again and again. It apparently “wears out” with time. Beloved gifts become forgotten, acts of consideration are taken for granted, as is so much of life. It has become apparent to me over the years that we mere mortals gain a certain satisfaction from complaining. I wonder why we enjoy it, some of us more than others? Are we just inherently ungrateful, mean spirited or just absent minded or spoiled? Why do we revel in trouble and bad times? Is it the attention it evokes from others? Apparently, it takes a lifetime to realize life is not predictable, fair or without periods of pain; both of the heart, spirit and body.
It has also become crystal clear that giving thanks can become a habit. It works the muscles of the heart and the spirit and keeps complaining away from the door of our conscience selves.
You can find gratitude in all areas of life; in adversity, in history, in nature and in other living creatures, only to name a few. For instance, just yesterday I’ve read articles about Lewis and Clark who opened the explorations here in the Northwest. One article was about a wretched winter experience they had sleeping out in the elements, rocks falling onto them from the winds and rain, the Columbia River, on the Washington state side as it emptied into the Pacific. Can you imagine how cold and wet they were those many years ago, paddling about in a huge tree hollowed out to be a canoe? Small wonder they named that small section of southwest Washington “Dismal Nitch,” Dismal indeed. I can’t even begin to understand that misery. The Clatsop Indians of this area had the good sense to build huge tented compounds with a central fire which kept many families warm and dry during these very wet and often snowy months of each year.
May I ask you to do a favor for me this holiday? Try saying thank you at unexpected times during your day and life. I love to do it when I cross the beautiful Columbia River and see a family of ducks floating on the waves wearing their waterproof layers. I give thanks when Georgie, our little Yorkie wags his tail at about the same speed as a hummingbird’s, motorized by the simple joys of life. All around us are reasons to say thanks. Tripping but not falling can give us a reason to be thankful. Truly open your eyes and heart and look my friends, and you will see many reasons to be thankful; please pause and do just that. I am thankful for all of you, my friends and readers over these many years. Please have a holiday filled with gratitude for all you have, love or have experienced.