Thanksgiving Memories

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When I was a kid Thanksgiving was always a big holiday. It was one of the few holidays that my mother seemed to enjoy, even though she did most of the work to make the day a special one. Preparations started weeks before. October was the month of the turkey shoots, where my Dad would go with his rifle and shoot at a target. The closest shot to the paper target won the bird. Some years my Dad would succeed, and some he would not. My mother, without saying a word, would buy a turkey anyway, just in case.

The week before Thanksgiving was the shopping week, and the cupboards would be filled with all sorts of groceries.  Most were foreign to me, as I did not spend a lot of time in the kitchen back then (and still don’t)! I remember many Thanksgiving eves when my mother would be sitting at the table in the kitchen peeling and cutting potatoes. I was always amused watching her cut the turnip, and wondered how she did not end up cutting off a finger in the process, as the vegetable is so hard on the outside. To this day I don’t like turnip much, and I think it’s because I know how my mom struggled with them all of those years!

Thanksgiving morning I would wake to the aroma of turkey baking in the oven. My Dad always made breakfast that day, as Mom worked around him continuing her preparation for dinner. Dad would make his “famous” pancakes, and we’d sit and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while enjoying the pancakes lavished with maple syrup. My Dad was just as excited about the parade as I was, and we’d wait with anticipation to see Santa on his sleigh.

I usually helped to set the table with the special blue plates. I remember them well, as they had a New England scene on them, with people walking on a path. As a kid waiting for the big dinner, it seemed as if a lifetime had passed since breakfast. I used to joke that by dinner time I was so hungry I could eat the people right off the plates!

I never knew who was going to join us for the Thanksgiving feast. Our house was always full of relatives and friends. My Mom invited anyone who had no other place to go for the day, to come and enjoy the big meal with us. My Dad would put the large leaf in the dining room table, and some years I really don’t know how we all fit there, but we managed. No matter what the economic situation from year to year, somehow my mother was always able to have an abundance of food prepared for all.

I remember one year there was a big snow storm on Thanksgiving day. My Dad and I left to go and get my grandmother, to bring her to our house for the day. She lived only about two miles away. It had snowed so much that we had to shovel our way out of our driveway and then down her driveway before Dad could drive on it. It seemed to me as if it took us about two hours to accomplish the task of retrieving Granny. But back then no one questioned it. My mother said “go get Ma,” and we did.

Once the big meal was over, it was time to clean up. There were no dishwashers back then, so I spent many hours during those years at the kitchen sink. Mom would always insist on washing, and I’d take turns drying the dishes with whoever else was there to help.

After the dishes were all put away and we’d had dessert, my Dad would usually bring out the guitar. We’d sit around for hours singing songs and playing instruments (including spoons and kazoos).  It was always a wonderful day.

Time went on and before I knew it, I was away at college. That was the first year that I could not go home for Thanksgiving. My cousin and I went searching in Tampa, Florida, for a restaurant that was open. Back then, almost every place was closed. There was no Black Friday, and there were no stores open at all on Thanksgiving day. We found a Chinese restaurant that was actually open, and we were the only customers in there! I missed the traditional Thanksgiving meal and my family, but I was glad to have my cousin with me to share the day.

The next year my Mom died suddenly of a massive heart attack. Thanksgiving would never be the same without her. My sister and brother-in-law took on the task of hosting Thanksgiving dinner in their home, and have been doing so for these last 28 years. Other traditions have formed over those years, and we’ve been able to come together and celebrate our blessings together. We’ve had great times with the next generation of the family, as the nieces and nephews now have children of their own to join in the feast.

I have been blessed in my life, and have many things for which I am thankful. As this Thanksgiving day approaches, and I am remembering the days of my childhood, I realize that I am one of the fortunate ones in this world. I was blessed with loving parents who made Thanksgiving a special day for me. And even after all these years, I still wait with anticipation to see Santa in the Macy’s parade!

Sometimes it just doesn’t get any better than that. Happy Thanksgiving!



Olive and Frank (part two)

Family and Heritage, Life Matters, spiritual 2 Comments »

In my previous post I wrote about my mother’s Aunt Olive, and her husband Frank. During the summer months when I was in my late teens, I used to spend time with them after mowing their lawn each week. The conversations, which turned into bible studies, often gave me something to think about until the next time I visited with them.

Frank was in his nineties, and always had bits of wisdom to share with me. He talked often about reading the Bible. One day I asked if he read it every day. “Yes,” he said.

“How can you read that every day for all of these years?” I asked.

“Every day I learn something new,” he said. I didn’t understand how a person could read the same words over so many years (I had guessed at least 70 years) and not get bored.

“The Bible says that ‘God’s word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path,” Frank continued. “Each day I get a new perspective on things in His word.”

Over the years I have often thought of Frank and that lesson he taught me so many years ago. I have grown to understand what he meant, as I too have read the same scriptures but have gotten a different meaning out of them. As the seasons of my life change, so do my needs in life. God somehow uses the same words to give me exactly what I need to understand, no matter what the season is.

It was so appropriate (co-incidence? I don’t think so) that today in church I heard a sermon very close to that lesson from Frank. The Reverend was speaking about growth. More specifically, that even if we have been Christians for many years, we still need to grow. We need to move in our faith, reaching for new directions, new and better understanding of God’s principle for our lives. As the Reverend spoke, my thoughts turned to Frank.

Frank understood about growing in faith. He knew that sometimes as Christians, we get stagnant in our walk. We let the same old thing be the same old thing. We read the same scriptures and think of the same meanings. But Frank got it. He was able to move past the obstacles that keep us in the same place in our spirituality. Frank continued to grow every day, even as he got on in age, when most people “retire” from such things.

Olive and Frank were spiritual mentors for me, in a time of my life when big changes were occurring. I was getting ready to head off to college in Florida, almost 2000 miles away from my home. I had big dreams and plans for my life back then. Saying goodbye to Olive and Frank was hard for me. Even though we never said it out loud, the three of us knew that I may not see them again.

They wrote to me while I was away at college, typed on a typewriter because their penmanship had gotten so poor. And soon afterward they both had to be placed in a nursing home, where they eventually passed on. They had married “late in life” according to most people’s definition (Olive was 67 and Frank was in his seventies), yet even so, God blessed them with long life so that they could enjoy it together. Frank was 104 when he went to meet his Creator.

The other day I was looking through a box of old pictures, and I came upon a letter that they had written to me. I don’t remember receiving it, but I am so glad that I saved it. What a treasure to find after all of this time. The words still ring true to me today. Words of wisdom from two very special people in my life, who I am able to honor through this blog 27 years later.

Here it is:

“June six, nineteen hundred and eighty-four.

Dear Little ‘Cindy:’

You are now standing upon the threshold of a new and beautiful career and it depends upon yourself to make it a happy and successful one — but only if you place all of your trust and confidence in Jesus, who loves you as no one else in the whole world can love you.

If you can do His work and be pleasing to Him, then you have already conquered life’s challenges and need have no fear of any undertaking so long as you do everything to please Him… please this world is impossible, and furthermore, the world should not enter into your career, you will find it a harsh and cruel world at times, but just keep hold of Jesus’ hand and you will conquer.

I wish I had more time to tell you all about the volumes of things you will encounter — some good and some very harsh, but so long as you do not forget to see Jesus in all things and do the will of God, you will never fail nor be hurt.

I would like to write volumes more, but time won’t permit, so God bless you, Dear, and best of luck.” — Olive and Frank.

There was also a post script:

“Always keep in mind God loves you (underlined). I do not need to tell you to always be the dear, sweet girl that you are!” — Olive.

Of course when I read that letter, after so much time had passed, the tears were unavoidable. My journey through this life so far has brought me to many places. Just as Olive and Frank wrote, the world has been “harsh” at times. But I still rely on the faith that the three of us spoke about during our visits. I still see Frank holding his Bible, and hear Olive’s sweet voice speaking to me about God’s love versus the “cruel” world.

“Each day brings something new,” Frank would say.

A lesson for life. May we all continue to learn it.

Olive and Frank (part one)

Family and Heritage, Life Matters, spiritual 2 Comments »

I already know, as I begin this post, that it will be a long one. So I’m going to write it in a few parts.

When I was a teenager, I used to go with my Mom to visit her Aunt Olive and her husband, Frank. My Mom would run errands for the elderly couple, and we’d visit for a while. Then I started to mow their lawn in the summertime. Of course, as most teenagers do, I wanted to complete the task and go on to other things, such as movies with my friends, or anything else but sitting and talking to old folks.

 But each time, as I pushed that mower passed the windows, I’d see Frank or Olive watching me. Sometimes they’d tap on the window, or wave to me. And upon completion of the mowing, they’d invite me in to “sit a spell” and have a cold drink of water. Frank would brag about how he was so pleased with the care that I took in mowing their lawn. They’d hired others, but no one took the time to trim the hedges or pay attention to the flower beds, etc. But I always did. I understood that Frank could no longer push the mower or use the hand trimmer, so I had wanted to complete the work with the precision and perfection that he had done for many years before. I took extra care to get it right, for Frank’s sake.

Afterward, they would use the cold drink as an excuse, in order for me to take the time to visit with them. And so I would sit and listen to their “stories.” Of course, I grew to love both the people and their stories.

Olive had a sweet and soft voice, a little lilting at times. She was a tiny woman, with little hands and so the voice matched her well. Frank was a tall man with large hands, and he’d sit in his chair and tap those hands on his knees, or sometimes reach over and take Olive’s hand in his. It was a tender gesture, and I remember that Olive would smile at him each time he gave it. And more often than not, in those hands Frank also held a Bible.

Their story is a unique one. Olive, who had never married, finally said “yes” to Frank. She was 67 years old when they married. Frank was older than she, so I would guess that he was about 71 when they became husband and wife. I always use Olive as my example when people ask me when will I get married. I say “Olive was 67 years old the first time she got married, so I’ve got a few years!” The marriage was blessed and lasted about 30 years here on earth.

So I would sit in their home and listen, as Olive spoke in her soft voice, and told stories of the past. Frank would nod his head in agreement and seldom, if ever, interrupted her. I think that was one of the reasons Olive married him; he rarely disagreed with her!

Many of their stories were about the “olden days,” and many were about my relatives. They were never “gossip” stories, but full of family history or remembrances of family picnics, reunions, and other events. I don’t remember the exact details now, but I do remember spending hours listening to the two of them. I had thought at the time that I was doing them a favor, spending an hour every week during the summer listening to their ramblings. But I stayed each time because I was drawn to them. And all of these years later, I realize that they were the ones who had given me the favor. They provided insight into life, they taught me patience, and eventually gave me a gift for which I am eternally grateful.(more on that in Part two).

Frank, at one point in his life, worked as a mechanic. Some of the stories he told contained details of automobiles from the past. He told me of a time they had to hang an engine from a tree in order to work on it. Those were the days before electric lifts of any sort. As Frank relayed the event to me, he looked down at his hands, as if remembering the strength it took to lift that engine out. It was just a little story, but as I looked at the ninety-five year old man sitting before me, slightly bent over in his chair as he spoke, that story became a testimony of the physical strength the man once had. I understood that point, even as a teenager.

Olive and Frank always asked questions during the visits. What was I studying in school? What were my plans for the future? Could they pray for me? Would I pray with them right at that very moment?

It didn’t take long for me to realize that those weekly “visits” were becoming a time of fellowship. A time of teaching for them, and learning for me. Each week the discussions concerning God, my faith, and their faith began to take over the topics of conversation. Soon Frank began to read some scriptures aloud to me, from that Bible that he kept in his lap.

This all took place in the early 1980’s, when cassette tapes were popular. Frank and Olive were excited that the Bible on tape was available to them. As they were on in years, reading became more difficult. So they would compliment the reading with listening to the tapes as someone narrated the Bible.

Sometimes they would ask me to read aloud to them. They would use the excuse that they liked to listen, but I think that the ulterior motive was to get me to actually read the Bible. After a few verses I’d stop, or they’d interrupt with a question or two, and we’d end up discussing the scriptures. My post lawn mowing visits soon turned into Bible lessons. And although I may not have agreed at the time with what they were telling me, I always listened to what Olive and Frank had to say about those verses.

…to be continued…

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