Holidays and family are equal

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 25, 2002

One Thanksgiving, it so happened, Ann and I were "alone." That is to say, our children were scattered at the time and we were not able to get to any of them nor they to us. Yet, we were not at all alone. Geographical distance was no real separation from our children and their families, and we joined ourselves with two other couples in similar situations. Thanksgiving is not only a time for families to be together in a traditional, intense manner, but often the opportunity to improvise family for others to make it an unusual and lovely experience for all so none are alone.

Ann had asked around church for others who were be in a similar situation. Two couples joined us on Thanksgiving at a local restaurant that made specific provision for the day. We had a delightful time in conversation--and no dishes to wash. I asked the group which Thanksgiving stands out as the most memorable for each of them.

One told of a wonderful, home-like Thanksgiving spread while serving with the Army in Italy during World War II. What he remembers most painfully was the terrible, poignant feeling of knowing they were so well fed and then having to place armed guards on their dump to prevent staving Italians from eating their garbage, which would likely have caused a disease.

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The usual joy of Thanksgiving with family equips us to understand how much we can accomplish by creating a family-like holiday for the family-less.

I remembered Thanksgiving during army basic training. We were served the first meal that had been prepared with some care. The offices and NCOs were actually pleasant to us, and it seemed the presence of their families reminded them of their own humanity.

Another was our first Thanksgiving in our New Jersey pastorate, over four decades ago. All Ann's family was in Africa (the folks and youngest brother in Ghana, her other brother and family in Mali), mine were in Milwaukee, my brother and wife in Iowa. We had just a year-old baby and were alone. The church members gathered together in their respective families, and not one thought to ask (or dared ask) what we might do on the day. Not even when they knew full well we had no family around. Not even hours before at the Thanksgiving Eve service on which and in which we worked so hard.

However, a family whose children were our age, invited us to their North Jersey home. We had met the Hermann Ratteseps only once, some years earlier, at the wedding of one of their daughters, then away in Michigan, who was our friend. We bundled year-old Mark into our little VW. Leaving the gray Jersey shore behind, we headed up the Garden State Parkway to Springfield.

We had been in this church for seven months, and this was the first full day I had taken off from my ministry. It was time for personal fellowship unrelated to an institution and apart from those for whom I was pastorally responsible and to whom I was institutionally accountable. Another daughter and husband joined us, and they fully integrated us into their family. We felt very at home.

We returned to Shark River Hills refreshed but also with new insight into personal needs. Ours had been met wonderfully, but others had not been received into a home. Including some widows and widowers back in Shark River Hills. We stayed put other Thanksgivings and invited widows and widowers into our home.

It was this deeply felt experience that set us regularly to remember on Thanksgiving people without or apart from their families. Some years it was young singles and other times those never married. Other years it was full families but separated from the rest of their families.

This day, too, it was the way we observe Thanksgiving. Without our family around, we improvised and created family. It was a very good Thanksgiving.

Dr. Wallace Alcorn’s commentaries appear in the Herald on Mondays.