Thanks Giving

Thanks Giving

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

Thanks Giving

I feel a very unusual sensation — if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.

~Benjamin Disraeli

I shivered with cold and excitement as I scuffed through the yellow maple leaves that blanketed my backyard. The next day was Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, and I was looking forward to seeing my whole family. Even though my three older sisters were married now, I was sure we’d all get together to eat turkey, relax, reminisce, and watch home movies.

I walked into the house expecting to smell pumpkin pie baking and willing to help my mom get ready for our company. I was surprised to find there wasn’t any sign of holiday preparations.

What was going on? Mom must have been planning to start baking after dinner.

At the dinner table, I found I couldn’t have been more wrong. “Listen, everyone, I have something to tell you about tomorrow,” my dad announced.

Four pairs of eyes looked at him expectantly.

“Your older sisters all have other plans this year for Thanksgiving. . . .”

“But it’s a tradition to come here,” I interrupted.

“Teresa, you have to realize that once you’re married, you have two sets of parents to spend the holidays with. Your sisters can’t always be here,” my mom explained.

“Anyway,” Dad said, “I’ve decided to give your mom a much-deserved break this year. I’m taking everyone to dinner at the Harvest Cafeteria tomorrow.”

Dad’s announcement was met with stony silence.

“You’re kidding, aren’t you?” I was the first to speak.

My dad shook his head.

He was immediately greeted with a chorus of: “But, Dad, that’s a terrible idea!” “But, Dad, I don’t want to go out to eat!” “But Dad, a cafeteria?”

“Dad,” I said, presenting what seemed to me to be the perfect argument, “the pilgrims would never have celebrated Thanksgiving anywhere but at home.”

“Teresa,” my dad replied, “after nearly starving, the pilgrims were happy just to have food. I don’t think it mattered to them if that food was served in their homes or at a restaurant down the street.”

I could tell it was no use arguing. As the sound of his proclamation died away, so did my dreams of a homespun Thanksgiving holiday complete with turkey and all the trimmings.

As I lay in bed that night, I wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. “Maybe it’s silly to be so upset,” I said talking to God through the canopy of my bed, “but how would you like it if someone ruined Your favorite holiday?”

When I awoke the next morning, there was no smell of turkey roasting in the oven. Instead I was greeted by the smell of coffee and burned toast. I burrowed back under the covers. There was no reason to get up.

The day dragged by. At five o’clock, we headed for Harvest Cafeteria. “You could have picked a better place to eat,” I grumbled under my breath.

“Enough,” my dad warned. “Just enjoy your evening.”

Enjoy my evening. Right!

I wasn’t surprised that the restaurant wasn’t crowded. Normal people have Thanksgiving dinner at home, I wanted to say as I slid my tray down the metal runners, but I remembered my dad’s warning and kept silent.

“Turkey or ham?” the lady behind the counter asked.

“Turkey,” I mumbled. I chose very little, then followed my family to a table by the window.

As Dad said the blessing, I looked out the window. Instead of sitting at home looking at a backyard full of brilliantly colored leaves, I’m looking at an old black-topped parking lot. This isn’t what Thanksgiving is all about.

Throughout the meal, my parents made attempts to lighten my mood. Finally, they gave up and let me sulk.

By the time dinner was finished, none of us seemed to have the holiday spirit. There was no lingering for another piece of pie or a second cup of coffee. We put on our coats and headed home.

Once there, Dad started outside to get firewood. When he saw me heading for my room, he called me back. “I want us to spend some time together as a family.” My brother, Marty, was pulling some DVDs of our family’s home movies out of the cabinet.

“Do we have to watch these?” I asked. I thought it couldn’t be any fun without the whole family together.

“We do,” Dad replied.

So I sat and watched my family history pass before my eyes. There were scenes from when we were babies, scenes of the whole family at the park, even scenes from Thanksgivings past. I smiled at pictures of my mom pulling the turkey from the oven and my dad carving it. It felt good to see the whole family around the dinner table. That’s what Thanksgiving is really all about, I thought.

As the projector continued rolling, I saw another dimension to our family life. I saw how hard my parents worked to care for seven children. I saw the plain meals we ate. I saw the tired, but happy, looks on my parents’ faces as they were surrounded by their children.

I remembered my earlier comment about going to dinner at a better restaurant and winced. Maybe Harvest Cafeteria was what we could afford.

I also thought about how hard my mom worked with four kids still at home. Maybe dinner out was a special treat for her — a break from a tradition that meant hours of cooking and preparation.

As I sat in the dark, the tears I’d wanted to cry last night finally flowed. All these things I have to be thankful for, and all I can do is complain.

I got out of my chair and went to sit at my dad’s feet. I laid my head against his knee. “Dad, I appreciate you and mom working so hard to take care of our family,” I told him.

If my out-of-the-blue comment surprised my dad, he didn’t let on. “You’re welcome,” he said, stroking my hair.

“I’m sorry for spoiling everyone’s Thanksgiving,” I continued.

“You didn’t spoil it, Hon. You just took longer than the rest of us to get used to the idea of celebrating Thanksgiving in a different way.”

As the projector whirred on, I relaxed against my dad, content at last. I’d finally found out just what Thanksgiving was all about.

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

~Teresa Cleary

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