Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. Even as a child, I loved going to church and hearing people testify to what they were grateful for. By age twelve I was even able to offer my own, though brief, thanks.
But there is one particular Thanksgiving that stands out in my memory. Perhaps it was 1959 or 1960 but the date doesn’t matter. I was a high school sophomore or junior as I recall. I always looked forward to Thanksgiving on several counts. First, going to church to give thanks always seemed a joyful occasion. Afterward, our family would be together around a festive table of Mom’s home-made specialties (including chocolate torte). I would set the table with white gold-rimmed china, silver, red glassware from the 1940s, autumn leaves and flowers. I’d make elaborate place cards and then serve as mom’s sou-chef in the kitchen. But perhaps best of all was the fact that Dad was home and we were all together. There were only four of us, but having our father home was a treat for so often he was away on business. Glenn (dad), a corporate businessman, excelled at solving problems and was often off doing just that. But on Thanksgiving he’d be home with us. I always looked forward to that.
My father was an amazing man. I knew that early on. His sense of love and justice filled every room he entered. People were drawn to him the way a perfect sunset captivates. His sense of humor and deep affection for humanity made everyone comfortable, from assembly line workers to presidents, to the littlest child. Everyone wanted to sit beside him at a gathering or meeting. He attracted people like a bear to honey. Thanksgiving was special because Dad would be home.
However, this particular Thanksgiving that I’m thinking of, as we sat down to our mid-day feast, the phone rang. It was a church member asking to speak to dad. Before he’d taken a bite Dad was on the phone. For a long time. When he came back to the dining room all he said was, “I need to leave–go on and eat without me.” And he was gone.
We ate, cleaned up, my brother watched some football, I helped Mom put away food and clean up. But I was a bit sad. Instead of our deep or jovial table conversation with dad, amid Mom’s delicious offerings and my special table setting, we were mostly silent. It just wasn’t the same.
I probably drew or read the rest of the day and evening, my usual activities. Still dad did not come home. When I went to bed, I realized he was still not home. Sometime the next day, Friday, he appeared but went straight to his den, to his Bible and Christian Science textbook. When the door closed, I knew he would be praying, working on understanding God’s presence. Something important was going on.
Sunday I learned what that was.
After church, as I waited in the foyer for my parents to cease their conversations with fellow members and to come drive us home, an elderly couple came up to Dad with wide smiles on their faces and overflowing tears in their eyes. As I stood right beside my dad, I saw them take his hands in theirs, holding on to him with brimming grateful words.
At home Dad told us that the wife had phoned on Thanksgiving day, extremely agitated, as it seemed her husband was dying and she asked if dad could come immediately. He spoke to the woman and then to her husband, though his breathing indicated he was passing on. Dad spoke in clear, strong, comforting words of God’s power and presence. Then he left his untouched Thanksgiving dinner with us for what turned out to be an even greater Thanksgiving. He stayed with that couple in their home, declaring, affirming, the Truth about man’s infinite, spiritual nature as God’s child. The man who appeared to be dying awakened to life, perfectly well. I will never forget seeing him take my father’s hands Sunday in the church foyer, never forget the words he and his wife both spoke in infinite gratitude to God and to my dad.
This was the best Thanksgiving. Dad knew it. And I knew it and never forgot it.
Artwork: Autumn, oil, 10″ x 10″ $475. I finished this piece a few weeks ago during my favorite season–October/November–when, just before falling to the ground, flame-colored leaves shook and shimmered in vibrant abstraction.