Archived Story

Alcorn: Giving thanks for Thanksgiving

Published 10:54am Monday, November 19, 2012

I have lived through 82 Thanksgivings, and I remember all but the first several. Those of childhood and youth rather blend together, because they were the same year-after-year. Rather than a boring sameness, this was an exciting promise of yet another wonderful family time.

Each Thursday began with a mid-morning service at our church. Our dinner was in the evening at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. All our uncles and aunts were there — and our cousins. The younger were relegated to card tables a safe distance from the adults. We were naïve about their purpose in this arrangement and imagined it a special privilege for children on a special day. Cousin Robert would take us into a dark closet and tell ghost stories.

Then Robert went off to the navy and older cousin Paul went to the army air corps as a fighter pilot. We were proud of the two silver stars on the service flag in Grandma’s window. Our older cousins began bringing their soldier husbands. The menu became modified to reflect the wartime restrictions of food rationing, but aunts combined red and blue stamps to make it festive nonetheless.

One of the most exciting Thanksgivings was the year the older boys at church invited me to join them in the traditional early afternoon touch football game. I felt grown up.

(Back then, Thanksgiving wasn’t compromised by Black Friday.)

After leaving for college, I either went to another student’s home for Thanksgiving or brought one or two home with me. These were usually foreign students or MKs (missionary kids) whose parents were overseas.

Thanksgiving during army basic training was bleak, being away from family for the first time. I lived through it by rehearsing all the Thanksgivings at home. The cooks put on a feast in the mess hall that astounded me by its opulence. I witnessed another fine army tradition when the company officers came with their families to eat with the troops. We had a family Thanksgiving after all.

In my first year of seminary a married student invited me to have dinner with his family. This was an auspicious occasion because it was his wife’s first Thanksgiving as an American citizen. She was native Japanese and had married the student when he was stationed there in the US Air Force. The newspaper presumptuously reported her as serving us Japanese food but her menu was as American as any. “I American now!” Sheepishly, they told me of a nursing instructor by the name of Ann who would be a good wife for me. She has been for 54 years.

In my final seminary year I took my bride home as the final step in her joining the family. The rest of her family was in Ghana, and I was yet to spend a Thanksgiving with them to become part of her family.

In the first year of our first pastorate, a large family absorbed us into themselves and we felt distinctly at home because theirs was so much like those in which each had grown up.

The first year in our New Jersey pastorate we were left thousands of miles distant from our families. These Easterners seemed insensitive our feelings and forgot about us. Not a little hurt, a family in distant Newark we barely knew invited us up there and we were restored. We have never forgotten their thoughtful kindness.

In point of fact, our experience that Thanksgiving inspired us to begin our own Thanksgiving tradition of looking for those who would otherwise be alone. No one should be alone on Thanksgiving, and the joy we learned from the thoughtfulness of others brought at least as much joy to us as to our guests.

Carving the turkey is thought to be the task of the man, but I always mangled them. Then one year our guest was a surgeon and his family, and you should see the work of art he created.

For some years free of having to conduct Thanksgiving services and tying us down, we have gone to the home of one of our children and gone to church with them.

Such occasions provide the opportunity of people to stand in the pew and express their particular thanks-giving. A mentally disturbed woman testified to the inner peace she has experienced through faith in God. An old man reared in a drafty farm house: “I thank God for a warm house.” A man who had recently lost speech from a stroke labored: “Thank-you-for-pray-ing-for-me.” Macho men for the only time in public: “I am thankful for my wife and family.”

The thanks I give this Thanksgiving is for Thanksgiving.

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