In the beginning (No, not that beginning!) In the beginning with Chonda and me there were four of us, me, the oldest boy followed by three stair-stepped sisters, Chonda being the usually loud one in the middle. We lived pretty close to both sets of grandparents and what seemed like hundreds of cousins, many of whom enjoyed splashing in cow pies with both feet and having 2×4 fights in the basement. But we were family and every Thanksgiving we came together to endure, I mean enjoy one another.
Before long grandparents begin to die off, cousins went on to Yale or Harvard or Reform School and each nuclear family did their own celebration. We had moved to SC anyway, then Tennessee so travelling was hard but the Thanksgiving Day dinner was just as magnificent. Mom put on a feast and the absent cousins were always replaced by soldiers away from their families and old widowed ladies, some looking at the soldiers like the rest of us looked at the turkey.
You may know the story of how, in the span of a couple of Thanksgiving we lost the two girls (car wreck and leukemia) and Dad left. But in the process we added Doris, my incredible bride, Sammy, our step-father and Mom’s savior, and David, Chonda’s hero and my friend. And then after that Josh and Jacob and Chera and Zach.
I believe my all time favorite Thanksgiving memory was the year they came to Springfield, Ohio where I was pastoring. That became the new Thanksgiving destination each year. There would always be snow on the ground, the lights in the neighborhood would be turned on and we’d go to the mall after dinner and ride the kiddy train and see Santa. Chonda always wanted to be the engineer. On this one special Thanksgiving night we decided to act out The Night Before Christmas on camera. (Remember the 20 pound, hold on your shoulder, VCR’s? I still have shoulder contusions from filming ball games and Christmas concerts.) Every kid had a part. Mom and Sammy were the stars. It was a little racy, ma in her kerchief and I in my cap part. Me, Chonda, David, Doris, all had to play multiple roles from angry neighbors to elegant elves. David even had to fill in for the lead reindeer with a red flashlight and the antlers from a deer I had killed just that week. Where was You Tube when you needed it? Great memories!
Some variation of that continued for the next 20 years with the addition of a beautiful daughter-in-law , thanks Josh, and a wonderful son-in-law, thanks Chera, grandkids destined for either Harvard or Reform School. The tables were in different homes, the turkeys sometimes larger, sometimes smaller. But the family always gathered, to eat too much, talk too loud (can you say Chonda?) and love a lot.
This will be our first “real” Thanksgiving without Mom. Last year doesn’t count just a month after her death. This one we have had plenty of time to see coming. Our families are different now. Josh in medical school, not Harvard, and Jacob playing in the band until 3am, at least it’s not Reform School. Just kidding. We are deeply proud of them both and THANKFUL (get it) for the time we can get together.
This year Chonda’s family has their own tradition and wonderful place. Our boys will come to our house with screaming, running, noisey grandkids (I hope). We’ll have a few “soldiers” and a recent widower, Sammy. And we will sit in a few hours around the table and eat too much and talk too loud (even sans Chonda) and it will be good because we are family, and God is here, and, and…it just is.
So three observations for you on this Thanksgiving Day.
- First, change will come. It always does. Try as we might we can’t stop it. The only thing really consistent in life is the coming and going of our chapters and the inevitable change that accompanies that. Families move. Parents pass. Kids grow up.
- The second observation. Enjoy every moment of it. It goes too quickly. 10, 20, 30 years zoom by almost beyond the speed of memory so fight to hang on to every story, burnt cranberry sauce, and spilled cup of tea in your mind. They will become treasures. Forget making it perfect, relax and take it all in today. Today is not about the product. It’s about the people.
- Finally this, Harvard or Reform School, it really doesn’t matter. Love them all. Just love them. They will be what God has determined they will be. And your job is to love the “hell” out of them along the way. (Don’t gasp, I meant that literally.) Just love them all. Love them when they are saints and when they are not. Love them when you agree with their decisions and when you don’t. Love them when they show up and even when they don’t. We are family. That’s what we do.
So may your Thanksgiving Day today be full of failures, mishaps, and funny stories. May you spill a little gravy and may the kids fight over the remote. And when the house is trashed and the dirty dishes have overtaken the kitchen, and when you son-in-laws dog leaves you a present on your newly cleaned carpet, look carefully at every moment of the day and then say, “Thank You Father. This is what you have given me and I will remember this day forever.” And as we say at our house, Happy Suckings! (I guess you have to buy the book.)
Mike and Doris Courtney
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