In the very center of my grateful heart, an empty spot reveals itself from time to time. Today is one of those times. This Thanksgiving Day, I find my heart longing for my mountain home and the family I held so dear. I imagine most of you know that feeling as well. It’s not that we’re ungrateful for our lives today and the extraordinary blessings most of us enjoy. No, we are, in fact, more thankful for “today” because of what we miss from “yesterday.” And so, this Thanksgiving Day, I want to share part of what makes it so difficult for me to feel completely whole, especially at holidays.
Each member of my family possessed traits and gifts unique to each of them, and some of these characteristics live on in me I am sure each of you finds this to be true in your own family. (Oh, we had plenty of flaws and faults, too, but we won’t talk about those today!) So, as I attempt to relate some of those gifts here, I hope you will pause to do the same in thanksgiving for those you hold dear as well.
My daddy was a complex man, and he and I had a complex relationship as I grew up. We didn’t always see eye to eye then, and Mom often acted as a shield between us. I think I questioned a lot of things about Daddy, but I never questioned his love; he loved Mom, Libby, and me more than life itself. Now, I see so much of my daddy in myself that sometimes he could be saying the very words that come from my mouth. I hope to share much more of my daddy (and the rest of my family) with you in the future, but for now, let me share what I believe to be the most important thing that Daddy’s life taught me.
From Daddy, I developed a deep love of the land, a deep respect for Earth’s wildlife, and most of all, a deep reverence for the mountains that renewed his sense of self and purpose. When Daddy felt the pressures of the world weighing heavy on his shoulders, off to the woods and mountains–places pretty much untouched by man–he would go. Most of the time, he would hunt. Sometimes, he would just go, walk until he tired, then find a place to sit where he soaked in all of God’s creation. It is the same for me. I never feel closer to God than when “I lift mine eyes unto the hills.” I am thankful for the father who made this a part of who I am..
My mom was a driven woman. She lived for God, for her family, and for her work. (So driven to succeed was she that sometimes it seemed that order of those last two was reversed.) As my greatest confidante, I pretty much told Mom everything. I even called to ask her permission the couple of times I played hookey from school; she granted me that permission each time. Almost always my advocate, Mom understood me in a way no one else ever has. I loved her so much that I spent a good deal of my childhood longing for her to be a stay-at-home mom. I realize now that would have broken her very soul.
From Mom, I gained a strong sense of commitment, commitment to anything you set out to do. Mom never entered into anything half-heartedly. She dove in head first and didn’t stop until she crossed her personal finish line. She committed herself to Daddy and their marriage and loved him with all her heart. She committed herself to Libby and me and would have walked through fire for us. She committed herself to her profession and made it a part of her very identity. She committed herself to taking care of each of my grandparents as the need arose and allowed them to leave this earth knowing they were loved and respected. I could never live up to her example, but I do feel this same sense of duty and commitment in my own life. I am thankful for the mother who made this a part of who I am.
How blessed I was to have all four of my grandparents into my adult years! I spent much of my childhood with them and loved them mightily. Each was a unique individual, and I find each of them in myself.
Maw, my paternal grandmother, was a true farmer’s wife. She cooked, kept house, gardened, loved flowers, canned and preserved, and worked like a horse beside Paw on the farm. She could leave her work in the garden or field at 11:00 and have a hot dinner on the table by 11:30. By 12:30, she was ready to go back to work outside with the dishes washed and the kitchen clean inside. A mountain woman at her best, Maw did everything from ironing bed sheets to stacking hay. But for all those things, Maw gave me something even better.
From Maw, I came to understand true hospitality. Folks loved to come to Maw and Paw’s house because of Maw. With a smile that lit up everyone’ face, she welcomed family and friends to come on in. Coming in to Maw’s home meant sitting in overstuffed living room furniture with a glass of tea or lemonade and visiting with others while Maw put the finishing touches on a Sunday dinner you wouldn’t soon forget. With bellies stuffed full and hearts stuffed even fuller, leaving to go back home was a hard thing to do. Tom and I delight in doing the same for our own guests. I am thankful for the grandmother who made hospitality a part of who I am.
Paw, my paternal grandfather, was a gruff, rough around the edges, hard man who probably possessed a “bad boy” persona in his youth. Paw was as strong as an ox and succeeded in making a pretty good living from little more than dirt because he worked harder than any man I’ve ever known. He had a temper, but not such a big bite. He would grumble at Maw over the smallest of things, saying , “Ole Woman…” this or that, and when he was frustrated with Daddy, he always complained, “Boy…” this or that at him.” But all those “thises” and “thats” were piddly little things. When it came to the big things that would normally upset anyone, Paw’s demeanor was calm as the morning dew. Paw did not worry, or at least, he didn’t show it. He took control of those things he had the capacity to control, and he unwaveringly accepted those that were beyond his best effort to change.
So, from Paw, I learned a sense of providence. When a situation crossed that line of human control, he would tell my fretful daddy, “Nothin’ to be done for it now. Worrying ain’t gonna help a thing.” This has been the hardest lesson for me to apply to my own life, and I have only been able to adopt Paw’s practice, and sporadically at that, in the last few years. Still, I am thankful for the grandfather who made accepting the reality of “it is what it is” a little part of who I am.
Granddad, my maternal grandfather, was a soft-spoken and soft-hearted, gentle man who worked his whole life sawmilling and in “The Chair Factory” in town. He never learned to read more than a few words and could barely sign his name, but his hands could build or make anything. He was a devout Christian and leader in our little one room church. A wise man of few words, he was as steadfast as the day is long. I never heard him say a bad word about anybody. Granddad possessed many gifts to pass to me, but one seems to encompass all the rest.
From Granddad, a deep-rooted seed of acceptance sprouted and grew in me. He left judgment to God and simply accepted people for who they were. I certainly don’t always understand or identify with everyone I meet or know, but I do strive to love those people just the same. I am thankful for the grandfather who made tolerance a part of who I am.
MommyBlanche, my maternal grandmother, was a bit of a woman with a slow but steady way about her. She had a marvelous chuckle that showed her dimples, and she also had quite a sharp tongue to match. Just as Granddad could build anything, MommyBlanche could sew or craft anything. An extraordinary seamstress, she sewed everything from Wagon Train Days outfits to wedding dresses for folks from miles around. She concocted a cough syrup from plum bark that dared you to ever cough again, and her bronchitis poultice stank to high heaven. But MommyBlanche was a whole lot more. She and Granddad opened their home repeatedly to those in need. They would take in the old who had no one else to turn to, and the young who needed a place of security.
From MommyBlanche, I came to know the merciful and compassionate idea of “Christ love.” Her example of Jesus’ love in action left a deep and lasting impression on me. She took these folks who needed someone to claim them worthy and valuable and gave them what they needed most. She loved them and made them family. I am so very thankful for the grandmother who made pure love a part of who I am.
These lines describe only a snippet of who my family was and who I am because of them. They lived lives full of examples of what the best person I can be should look like. They also lived flawed lives, just as any human does, and my life reflects some of those shortcomings, too. But the examples of our best far outweighed all the flaws, and not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to say that. I realize more each day what a blessed life I have been given and how much I have to be thankful for every day.
So, this Thanksgiving Day, I take pause to revel in the grace that God has poured in my life, and I pray that God has done the same for each of you. I pray that each of you can find those most valuable of all qualities in the very special people who helped make you who you are today. I pray for each of you to feel that same Absolute Love in your hearts that I have felt, and I pray for each of you to know The Peace in your soul that surpasses all understanding. And I pray that little empty spot continues to speak to you with the voices of those you have loved.
Happy Thanksgiving, dear Friends, and God’s blessings on you all!
Photo Notes: The first picture is of our table at my home on Helton with my family gathered round. My mom took the picture and, so, isn’t in it. I am the only surviving member from those in the room that day.
The second picture was taken at our home last year on Thanksgiving Day (11/26/15). We keep the love and memory of our family alive by making others our family.