Thanksgiving Stories

Dear Friends of Second Church,

I don’t know whether you’re staying or going this Thanksgiving.

Liz, the girls and I always “go”– first to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving (and overnight with their dog Henry, whom the girls adore), then on Friday to my in-laws in the City for Second Thanksgiving.

It helps that the matriarchs are both wonderful cooks.

But we’re very blessed to have all four grandparents near to hand and mostly spry, and we know that.

I remember my great-grandfather when he was a few years older than my dad, though I don’t remember much other than his supervising late season yard-work on the day after Thanksgiving.

When it came to children, he was pretty much a member of the “seen but not heard” school. In his view, yard work was for boys, dishes were for girls, and sitting quietly was for anyone under 30, except active military.

The idea of having a kid read him a book, or explain about which character in the movie is Kristoff and which one is Sven, or ask to hold the dog’s leash during a walk, or go on “Very Important Errands” with him to CVS–well, these things hadn’t been discovered yet.

So aside from the yardwork, and the one year I whined my way into getting my cousin Charlie to take me with him to the Madison-Guilford Thanksgiving Day football game, what I remember over all those Thanksgivings was a lot of sitting and listening to the grown-ups talk.

I didn’t look forward to it, although now, of course, I would give anything to sit there quietly and listen.

Because honestly, what talkers they were.

My Great-Uncle Tom, who was drafted at 19 and had hidden wine bottles all over the woods of France “just in case they ever retreated” en route to Berlin.

His wife, Aunt Alice, who had been the “Shoreline correspondent” for the New Haven Register, and one of the first people in town to own a television, and a political junkie since the 40s.

My grandmother, talking about the time she skated with Sonja Henie in “The Nutcracker” in New Haven, playing a rat who had to chase the cheese.

My father, who then as now, has always gotten on a roll when he’s around his siblings, and loves to get them bickering over what happened to the cat in 1953, or who convinced Brucie Barber to stick his tongue on the guardrail while they were waiting for the school bus one frigid February morning in 1948.

So many stories.

And so, while I’m glad that our girls will have warm memories of all kinds of adventures with their grandparents, and will remember how everyone was so interested in their world from the very first, I’m a little sad that they won’t have quite the same experience of hearing the stories year after year, of being initiated into the family lore (whether or not they want to be), of learning to listen not because they’re interested, but so that they might become interested.

They’re young. There’s still time.

But Thanksgiving reminds us of how importance it is to take hold of these moments, and that, while it takes years to pass on a legacy, we need to take the moments seriously–and see them for the opportunity they are.

Teaching our children what it is we believe in, how it is we understood ourselves to have been seen through challenges, what it is we think we owe, and where we come from are all vitally important things for us to pass on.

It’s part of how they understand not only that blessing is real, but that blessing takes particular forms within our lives, and that our legacies are shaped by those blessings.

Your family may not tell stories that refer to God or “faith” or “prayer” or even “blessing.” Most of mine does not. But in learning who their people are, for good or for ill, in ways comic and tragic, our children learn a lot about the way that love unfolds across the generations. They learn about who it is they are being invited to become. And they learn about the power of testimony in ways that will never let them go.

I feel God’s presence in that.  And I give thanks.

See you in church,

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