Not A Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving…

The only Thanksgiving element I absolutely cannot do without is family. For me, Thanksgiving is synonymous with loud, boisterous, prank-pulling, bowl-dropping, too-many-in-too-small-a-space, story-telling, story-denying, over-hugging, over-cologned, and occasionally under-showered, family.

As one of nine children, I remember Thanksgiving as the one day of the year we hosted both sets of grandparents (we’ll call them the Ungers and the Maddisons), and one or two relatives whose branches we never quite located on the family tree but were always called Uncle and Ginny. The uncles changed nearly every year. I remember one who was particularly fond of loading chips into his big floppy fishing cap and walking around offering chips to everyone. Never saw anyone but him take from that cap.

…Plus a Saint Bernard and small black mutt with the heart of a lion and teeth of a piranha. And when they both went to puppy heaven, two dogs stepped in to take their place. Always two dogs.

We’re not talking a Norman Rockwell painting here. We’re talking at least one child lying under the living room coffee table with a stomach ache after downing a jar of pickles, another with peas stuck in her nose (you thought I forgot, huh sis?), the always proper Nana going through at least five martinis while Dad played endless pranks trying to get her to swear at him (he always got at least one good shriek out of her—usually involving Pop Rocks or a plastic spider frozen into an ice cube), Grandma doing her best to look unfazed by the chaos but not fooling anyone, and Grampa being the only one of the elders truly having a good time…because he sat in the rocking chair the entire time with his hearing aid off.

There was always a roaring fire in the fireplace, with one or two soot-smudged older boys piling on way too much wood or sword fighting with the pokers. They must fight stealthily to avoid stepping on the Saint Bernard’s massive form splayed in front of the fire, or the youngest siblings who are using him as a pillow. The little dog, for some strange reason, thinks the safest place would be at Mom’s feet. Every so often we’d hear a yelp and a “Someone get this damned dog out of here!” (Sorry about the language, but that was typical Thanksgiving Day vernacular, if not from Mom, then from Nana when Dad finally scored.)

And the rest of us? Let’s just say my Mama didn’t raise any quiet children. By the time we were all seated around the two or three tables, we’d already run up and down the stairs 50 times, played 20 rounds of HORSE at the frozen basketball hoop outside, consumed all the olives (after chasing each other through the house with scary olive fingers, of course) and all the chips, pickles, and anything out of Mom’s slotted spoon range. (Mom was deadly accurate with a slotted spoon.) Frankly, we sat because we were tired. Mom, too, come to think of it.

Here’s where I have to give props to Mom. I don’t remember helping her with Thanksgiving dinner. I honestly don’t. I know for certain the boys didn’t. I do remember the flour on her cheeks and hands, the strand of curly hair that always fell across her face when the steam hit it, and the mounds and mounds of delicious food she put on the table. Every year the feast was fabulous and perfectly cooked, all timed just right and served hot. Pies for days, and gravy the likes of which I’ve not tasted since. If I could send a message to her now in Heaven, it would be, “Mom, I didn’t know. I’m sorry, and I’m amazed, truly.”

Fast forward 40 years to a quieter time. Much quieter. Thanksgiving means so much more to me now, but my family is so much less chaotic. Funny, I only really miss the chaos on Thanksgiving. My siblings all have families of their own, and we live in five different states, so reenactment is highly unlikely, although, combined I think we own a zoo’s worth of dogs and cats.

Thanksgiving_table

Hoping your table is bountiful and your blessings overflowing

To make up for the quiet, and to maximize the joy we feel for this day, my husband and I spend every Thanksgiving in a huge Cabin in Prince William Forest Park with about 70 of our closest friends, primarily our church family and their guests. They won’t run around with peas in their noses or olives on their fingers, nobody will be tripping on dogs (although I hear we may have an Australian Shepherd on site tomorrow who’s also an Afghanistan war veteran, so there’s potential), and everyone will behave, I’m sure.

But I’m bringing Pop Rocks, just in case.

 

Wishing everyone a fantastic Thanksgiving, and praying a grateful thank you to the men and women in uniform, both military around the world and our first responders at home, who will be on duty while we celebrate. Your sacrifice does not go unnoticed.

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For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. — 1 Tim 4:4-5

 

Shout Out to Michele: Five Years Strong and Counting!

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”  – C.S. Lewis

Today’s blog is dedicated to good friends, and one in particular. We all have friends—people we love and enjoy being with, but we should also have one or two best friends (spouses aside), who stand above the rest. Those are people we connect with on a deeper level, and for whom we’d go through fire if they needed us to. God has blessed me with two such friends.

The first is Lisa, who lives in Boston, my friend since we the 6th grade (nearly 40 years ago). I could write volumes about the trouble we got into (well, mostly me while she watched) when we were young and foolish (well, mostly me again).  Lisa and I can, and often do, go months without hearing from each other, but when we get together, it’s as if we never parted. I don’t see Lisa often, but she knows if she were to call me tonight and ask me to come to Boston, I’d be packed and on the road within the hour.

The other is Michele, the reason for today’s musings. If Michele and I were fighting in a battle, we’d be the ones standing back-to-back, each watching out for the other the Jonathan and David battled in the Bible. I’ve only known her for about 12 years, but whenever I read about how David was “knit to Jonathan’s soul,” I get it, because that’s how I feel about Michele. And I know she feels the same way about me because she volunteered to (and actually DID) drive me to the airport last month during a Friday afternoon rush hour. Not Dulles; Ronald Reagan. In the city. Knowing that after dropping us off she’d have to merge with the homeward-bound masses on I-95. That’s a friend.

Michele, my friend

My friend, my hero.

Michele is one of the kindest people I know. She has put others before herself all her life. As long as I’ve known her, she’s never stood in the spotlight. In fact, when she sees this, her first reaction will likely be “This is ridiculous. I’m not special.”

But she is. This is a woman who has endured more than the rest of us would consider a fair share of trials and heartwrenchingly wrong turns, and nobody who knows her entire story would have faulted her if she’d turned bitter. Yet she continues to laugh, to encourage others, and give every ounce of herself away.

Michele’s capacity to love is so great, she’s practically a professional worrier because she can’t bear the thought of those she cares about to be hurt. She thinks I’m the strong one because I tend not to be a worrier, but I want to take this opportunity to say, Michele, it’s your strength, your generosity, and your courage that inspires me most.

A little over five years ago, cancer and a series of other potentially debilitating medical issues came crashing into Michele’s life. Do you know what this single mom’s biggest worry was?  That OTHER people’s lives might be impacted. Sure, she went through some serious woe-is-me times, and there were many tears, but except for those incredibly horrible down-for-the-count chemo days, she fought hard throughout those years to ensure her two teenagers’ daily routines went on as unimpeded as possible. Think about those years: weekend college visits, driving lessons, prom dresses, high school graduation, and angst and drama out the wazoo. She mommed with a vengeance and got them both off to college.

Now, thanks to her faith, her stubbornness, her many friends, and some rather outstanding medical practitioners, Michele is celebrating being more than five years out from cancer. She wanted to throw a party, but, as you might have guessed, other people and commitments came first.

So today we’re putting Michele first. Some of her friends and I hijacked her selflessness, and we’re throwing her party. We’ll practically have to tie her hands to a chair to do so, but we’re going to sit her down and make her laugh and eat carrot cake and be waited on until she knows, without a doubt, how special and how inspirational she is to all of us.

Now, if we’d invited ALL her friends and ALL the people she’s helped and ALL the people who love her, we’d have had to rent a stadium. But all we have is a private home, so we’re celebrating with those people she leaned on through the toughest years. However, if you know Michele, or if you don’t know her but can relate to what she’s been through, you can celebrate with us and really make her day all the more special if you leave a WOOT! Or a Way to Go! Or any other words of congratulations on this page for her to read during the party. Yes, I’ll make sure she reads it.

After all, she’ll need something to do while she’s tied to that chair.

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“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” — Ecclesiastes 4:9-10