The post that follows below (after the dividing line) is a repeat post from 2004, the first year of this blog. I'm repeating it here primarily because I want to add something to it. The tradition below still survives, but because sons grow up the table isn't always set for four anymore, nor is the table always the one in our home. What I want to add is that this year, while I'm thankful for many things, I'm so thankful for a very specific thing. Not a thing, but a person. A future daughter-in-law. Before Thanksgiving 2011 rolls around this lovely young woman and my oldest son will be married, and I couldn't be happier. That's what I'll say on my first turn around the table this year.
My favorite Thanksgiving meal is not the dinner with turkey and stuffing. My favorite Thanksgiving meal is breakfast. When my children were little we started the practice of having a formal breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. The table is set with our good china and goblets. Candles. Fire in the fireplace. The menu varies and has included items such as waffles, Swedish pancakes, French toast, or some variation of a baked egg breakfast casserole. There is always juice and coffee with cream and sugar (for this meal, only sugar cubes will do). Over the years there have been broken goblets and spilled juice and the timing for the preparation of this meal has interfered with getting the potatoes peeled on time for the "real" Thanksgiving meal. But this is the meal I wouldn't trade for any other. The value of the meal isn't in the food of course. The value is in the ritual of thankfulness that takes place while we eat the meal. As we eat, we go around and around the table, each of us taking repeated turns to name things for which we are grateful. Many declarations of thankfulness follow a similar pattern from year to year: thanks for each other, for members of our extended family, for friends, for special people in our lives, for health and safety, for employment, for our church, for our schools, for a miraculous recovery, for various kinds of rescue, for the love and presence of God in our lives. Some declarations of thankfulness are specific to the year. This year there will be thanks for...and 'round and 'round the table we'll go.
On Memorial Day eve, a dear neighbor died. He was a World War II vet, the anchor of this neighborhood, and a consummate gardener. In his honor, I'm posting a short piece I wrote several years ago during Holy Week.
The man next door to where I live is kneeling on the ground from which hostas will emerge alongside his house, clearing out the clutter that the melted snow revealed. A retired electrician, Bob wears jeans and a gray t-shirt as he works. He is tan and fit. His appearance has changed little in the fourteen years we’ve been neighbors. Handful by handful he removes the dead leaves and debris and places it in a plastic bag; its top ripples in the breeze. Bob is 84 years old, yet he rises and kneels again before a spirea bush, repeating the cleansing ritual, like a man half his age.
Now Bob stands alongside his row of weigela bushes. Their fuchsia flowers are still weeks from bursting; the green buds new last week. He fertilized them on schedule and so their springtime resurrection proceeds. With shovel in hand, he aims at the ground around each base, places a foot and steps down. The roots need space and fresh air. The blade pierces the ground. He pushes on the shovel’s handle to lift the dirt and turn it over. He repeats down the row, topping with mulch.
When Bob wants a break, he sits in his lawn chair of white and brown woven webbing on a foldable aluminum frame. He sits in the shade in his driveway or next to the bush or plant he is tending. Sometimes his wife, Leatrice, joins him and they sit together in matching lawn chairs. I’ve seen him bring the chair out for her, unfold it, and set it on the ground with an extra jiggle and push to make sure it’s grounded before she sits. Once, sitting with them at their kitchen table, she told me that they are as happy together now—even happier—than on their wedding day over fifty years ago.
Bob’s attention will soon turn to his roses and day lilies. The two trellises of violet clementis. The hyacinth and lilacs. The peonies. When the maple tree launches its whirlybird seeds later this season, he will patiently pluck them up one by one, again on his knees. Sometimes he sits on the lawn chair and reaches down to remove them with a vacuum. The whirlybirds that cross our yard line get no such special treatment but take their chances with the breeze, the thatch, and the lawn mower. The lawn he sees across from his own—ours—has bare spots, residual effects of a dog and two boys. “Don’t worry,” he once told my husband, “the kids are more important.” He has no view here of trellises wrapped in violet bouquets, and our uncultivated ground offers no hope of return on the tomatoes and cucumbers he grows and leaves at our back door.
One day several summers ago, along the fence at the back of my yard, a yellow day lily bloomed where there had been no bloom before. It caught my eye through the window. In secret, Bob had knelt on his grass, dug into his soil, and lifted the lily by its roots. He rose and crossed the yard line. In secret, he knelt on our grass, dug into our soil, and laid the roots back down. Springtime is only three weeks old and the perennial blossoms are not yet splashed across the back fence. The green base waits, however, ready and full. When the yellow blooms come, they will be new every morning.
On a reflective note: Back in 2004 I wrote a post that continues to get a large number of hits every New Year. That post, Lost Quote Has Royal History, includes a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins called "The Gate of the Year." It was a follow-up to an earlier post called Safe in the Dark, which was about trust while on an unknown path and something my grandfather said to me on my wedding day.
On a more buoyant note: My sister alerted me to this New Year song recorded by ABBA in Stockholm. Thirty years have passed, but it is still fun to watch.
Just before the wedding party started their walk down the aisle, the singer/guitarist sang “I Want You to Be My Love” by Over the Rhine. That alone made me happy to be a guest yesterday at the wedding of a friend of my son’s. But there was more. There was the look of joy and eagerness on the face of the bride as she took her first few steps down the aisle and then stopped and looked back, realizing she had left her father behind, their arms unlinked. No matter, his face spoke understanding as he caught up. There was the serenade the groom sang for his bride--to her surprise--self-accompanied via ukelele. There was the love song--which I can’t now identify--sung by a friend with accompaniment by the best man with restrained accordian, lending a French promenade sort of romance. There were the vows, which were written by the couple but had the ring of wisdom beyond the years of these 22/23-year-olds. Here’s a funny thing: Although they had written their vows, they hadn’t memorized them, which turned out to be a mistake as they forgot to bring their written out copies. Fortunately, the best man realized this early on and using sign language discreetly signed to his wife in the congregation to find the laptop that held an electronic version of the vows. With stealth, she left her seat, exited the sanctuary, and scurried to find the laptop. Just when the vows were to be exchanged, she floated out from a door behind the minister--as if this had all been planned--holding open laptop and set it down on--was it the kneeling bar?--for the couple’s reference. The couple laughed. The congregation laughed, we liked this spontaneity, this resourcefulness rather than panic and consternation in response to imperfection and oversight. The groom went first, speaking a couple lines before bending down to find his place and keep going, vowing more and more of himself to her. Here’s something to pay attention to: The line he spoke after straightening up from one of his laptop glances was, “ I will never divorce you.” Because the groom bent down and looked at what he was about to say and stood back up again he had time to reconsider. But he didn’t reconsider; he said it, and she said it also when it came time for her vows, and I admired this intentional and public statement of will against the elephant in the room of till-death-do-we-part marriage. Here’s something else: They washed each other’s feet. This I’ve never seen at a wedding. While a reader read the Gospel passage of Christ washing the feet of his disciples, the bride sat down and the groom removed her sandals and proceeded to wash her feet with water in a silver bowl. The bride then rose and the groom sat. She removed his shoes and socks and returned the washing. I’ll admit this made me uncomfortable. Was it that it was such a breech from a traditional ceremony? Was it that I just didn’t want the bride to have bare feet under her white empire-waist dress or the groom to have bare feet under his charcoal gray suit? Was it that this young couple was modeling a humility to serve and be served, a vulnerability that can’t help but bring discomfort to those of us dressed in our wedding best thinking that we’ve got this marriage thing mastered? With the washing done, they knelt--with bare feet--while someone sang the great hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” The soloist sang the first two stanzas alone. Somewhere toward the beginning of the third stanza, some voices from the congregation started quietly singing along. More voices pitched in. The voices got louder and before more than a line or so from that last stanza had passed, the whole room was singing in unison. No words had been printed out. No motion for the congregation to join in had been given. It just happened and it was a beautiful thing: “...thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow--blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided--great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!” With laughter and clean feet, this young man and woman exchanged rings, kissed, were introduced as Mr. and Mrs., and headed off to reception, honeymoon, and life beyond.
This past weekend, my husband and I attented a local wedding reception for a good friend who had been married in another state about six weeks ago. Joy gushed forth. The bride and groom couldn't stop smiling and laughing, they were so happy. The smiles on all the guests made it seem they had been given a precious gift as well, which of course we had--to see our friend in this wonderful new place in life.
Midway through the reception, the wine stopped pouring and the forks were put down long enough to hear the bride and the groom each share some words about themselves and how they came to be a couple. Their local minister then talked for a few minutes about marriage. One of the things he said was that it is a really good idea to always know the five biggest current needs of your husband or wife. These five needs should be front and center in your mind--and in your actions--everyday.
Today is Valentine's Day. His idea is a priceless no-cost gift (unless, of course, the list of needs is like mine and includes a week on a beach--which isn't going to happen by the way--but I don't think that's quite what he was getting at).
Over the holiday weekend, together with my family, I attended a family reunion for my husband’s side of the family. Altogether there were about 65 people there representing four distinctive families from his maternal grandparents. Since the last reunion nine years ago, a total of 13 people have been added to the family either through marriage, birth, or adoption. There have been no deaths, thankfully, although one is battling an extremely rare and aggressive cancer (please say a prayer for Mark) and one is in remission after battling another form of aggressive cancer (please say a prayer for Suzanne).
The reunion activities included water sports, bonfire, eating, and talking. Lots of talking! Many stories to tell and be reminded of. Not all of the stories in this family have been happy ones--what family has only happy stories?--but there was a joy among this group that transcended the stories that were unhappy and the health that is in jeopardy. There was joy in being together, of being connected, of seeing the family grow in number, and of seeing that the faith that was passed from parents to children 75 to 80 years ago in the Black Hills of South Dakota is still being passed from parents to children and is still the lifeblood of this diverse group spread out from coast to coast.
And since it was the Fourth of July, of course there were s’mores and fireworks. :)