Tuesday, November 17

Dishing Up Gratitude - by Janie DeVos

 

       

     That time of year is upon us again when we settle down at the table before plates filled to overflowing with turkey and all the sides.  But for many homes in America, this Thanksgiving will look a little different than those in the past, and will sound a little different, too.  Gatherings will be much smaller and the cacophony of noise that usually fills the rooms will be a little softer, making many people a bit sad with the tempered holiday sounds.  But, for my husband and me, this won’t be the first small gathering we’ve had at Thanksgiving, and what we have found is that those smaller gatherings can end up being some of the most special. 

Several years ago, there were five of us at the table.  None of my husband’s family could make it, and neither could mine.  Two of the people with us were an older couple who lived behind us on a come-and-go basis, and the other was a divorced friend whose only child and his family lived in California.  After we’d eaten our fill of turkey and dressing, I passed around coffee and desserts, and, because there was just a handful of us, it gave us the chance to enjoy a more intimate conversation than one that was drowned out by too many voices vying to be heard above each other.  Looking around at my guests, I posed this question: “Other than the usual, ‘I’m grateful for family and friends…’ what particular thing are you grateful for in your own life—something that pertains to you alone?”  And their answers did not disappoint. 

“I’m grateful I survived breast cancer,” Martha said, after taking a sip of her black coffee and looking thoughtful.  “I’m grateful I was allowed the time to raise my children.  That was the worst part of it; wondering whether I’d be around to teach them more than just how to tie their shoes, or their left from their right.  I prayed for the time to teach them how to stand on their own, and think for themselves, and not only was I blessed to have been able to do so, but I’m still around to see my children teach their children those things.” 

Martha’s husband, David, was next.  “I’m grateful I ran out of money while studying to be a doctor.  I know that sounds odd,” he smiled, “but had I been able to become a physician, then I wouldn’t have become a speech pathologist, and that career has been beyond rewarding.  To see a child overcome a speech impediment, or to help someone regain their ability to speak normally after a horrific accident has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.  Besides, I made enough money to take care of my family, and pay for my kids’ college education, so it provided me with what I needed and more.  I’m grateful for all of that.” 

It was Gina’s turn, and our relocated-from-California, fabulous-painter friend replied without hesitation.  “It’s the land I live on,” she said firmly.  “Without a doubt, it’s my land.  I wake up each morning to a view that isn’t the same as it was the day before.  The light shifts and the colors change constantly.  Fireflies in my woods may inspire a painting of faeries foraging among the maples, and a summer shower moving across my open pasture brings about a play of light that makes me grab my brushes.  What artist couldn’t be inspired?  Everything I had in California, I lost in a mudslide, and the gentle land I live on now seems to have been waiting for me to come, to help heal those losses.” 

After a quiet moment while we digested each other’s answers, I turned to my husband.  “Glen,” I asked, "what are you grateful for?” 

“I’m glad I took a chance as a sales rep with MCI.”  (This was a large, but now defunct telecommunications company Glen worked for in the ‘80’s.)  “I ended up doing all right,” he said, with that typical sweet smile of his.  And he had done all right!  Shy by nature, trying sales as a way of making a living was taking a bit of a risk, but his humble nature had worked in his favor: He’d ended up becoming one of the company’s top sales people in the country, year after year, because of the strong and trusting relationships he built with numerous high-level customers.  

“What about you, Janie?” Martha asked.  “Bear your soul,” she chuckled.  “What are you grateful for?” 

“The recipes and the traditions,” I replied, getting up and walking over to my open cookbook on the counter that was jam packed with loose pieces of paper.  These were the family recipes I had collected over the years, most of which were from loved ones now gone.  I picked one out and brought it back to the table.  It was a torn and food-stained piece of yellowed paper that had my grandmother’s writing on it.  It was her recipe for corn pudding—the same corn pudding we had just eaten. 

“I’m grateful for the people who taught me how to do this,” I said, passing the recipe around. I’m thankful they showed me how to make people feel loved and appreciated by the foods they made.  They never made me help much in the kitchen, though,” I admitted, feeling a little guilty for the many times I came rushing in just in time for dinner and then hurried off to be with friends right after the pie.  "Mama used to say that she figured I’d absorb what I needed to know by just being around the women—who consisted of my mother, aunt and grandmother. And, somehow, I did.  Somehow, it all soaked in and now I’m doing what they did year after year.  I’m carrying on their traditions, and I’m grateful to them…I’m grateful for them,” I said, feeling the dulled-yet-still-there pain of missing them for the hundredth time that day. 

We finished our coffee a short time later then we walked our neighbors home, carrying a couple of dinners’ worth of leftovers with us.  We lingered at their door for several minutes, stretching out our time together for as long as we could before the sun started slipping behind Arbuckle Mountain, heralding the end to the day and sending us back down the darkening gravel road. 

It’s been ten years since that Thanksgiving, and I remember it like it was yesterday.  A certain bonding took place at our table, making the memory of it more vivid than many of the larger gatherings that have taken place since then.  Though David has since passed and Martha is in a nursing home down in South Carolina, and Gina has gotten remarried and is busy with her new family, I will always be grateful for that dinner we shared when everyone dished up a little of themselves. 

 Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  May it be one you remember for many years to come.   

10 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing your gratitude with us, Janie.

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    1. Thanks, Liz. It WAS pretty special. That was truly a Thanksgiving to remember.

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  2. What a special time you had with those friends, Janie. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. It's the little things in life, isn't it, Kristi? Including little gatherings.

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  3. Oh, Janie, what a touching post! Thank you! I'm going to borrow your gratitude question this Thanksgiving--it's a wonderful one that requires real thought. Happy Thanksgiving, my friend.

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    1. Excellent, Nan! Please share their answers in one of your posts. I'd be so interested in hearing them.

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  4. A beautiful post, Janie. You showed that having a smaller number of people at your table allowed for deeper connections. It's something to remember as we head into the holiday season this year and large gatherings are discouraged.

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    1. I hope people will make their smaller gatherings really wonderful, and, by doing something like asking a different kind of question, it gives everyone at the table a chance to get to know each other in ways they may never have before. Happy Thanksgiving, dear Jana!

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  5. You write nostalgia so beautifully, Janie! Well, you write everything beautifully, but this was an enchanting glance into the warmth of friendship and traditions, whether new or old.

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  6. I think this year we need to start some new traditions and maybe that means going back to the basics of friends and family by getting to know each other a little better than we ever have before. Happy Thanksgiving, dear friend.

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