Thanksgiving

27 11 2008

Today I did something I’ve never done on a Thanksgiving before. I ate Thanksgiving dinner with just my own family. And by that, I don’t mean the extended family. I mean just myself, my wife, and our children. And we didn’t even eat turkey.

For every other year that I can remember (which I think is all of them) Thanksgiving has been an ordeal that involves all of my extended family on my mom’s side, the Jacksons, and I love it. My Grandpa Don Jackson is the King of Thanksgiving. A turkey farmer for decades, this was the holiday around which his entire livelihood was centered, and so the Thanksgiving turkey is as much a reminder of our family roots as it is a countrywide tradition. Plus, every four years, Grandpa Don’s birthday falls on Thanksgiving, making it a double celebration.

Like many families, ours has its traditional recipes. The show would literally be ruined if my Grandma Mitzi didn’t make potato casserole or chocolate pie, or if my Aunt Kim didn’t make sweet potatoes and pecan pie. (I have honestly never tasted any other pecan pie or sweet potatoes that come even close.) Things got more interesting when the cousins started getting old enough to contribute to the foodfare. Sometimes we divide the standard recipes, but other times we throw something new into the mix. One year, I attempted sweet-and-savory, cranberry-stuffed acorn squash. They looked gorgeous and tasted like vomit — one of just a small handful of culinary disasters to have ever befallen me. I redeemed myself the following year with a killer wild rice casserole.

Last year marked an exciting first for me. It was the first time we invited all of the Jacksons over to our home for Thanksgiving. And I had a specific goal in mind — to get everyone together in the same room for the meal. In recent years, the family has grown so large that we’ve had to start eating in smaller groups in separate rooms. But by emptying out the basement, we pulled it off. Every counter and table space in the upstairs kitchen and dining room was covered with food, and in the basement, we fit almost thirty people for the big meal. It was a true privilege to have them all in my home, even if the basement flooded the next day from too much leftover corn going down the garbage disposal.

I would never have guessed then what Thanksgiving would look like for us this year. That day while we laughed and feasted, while my kids played with their cousins, while my cousin Jenilee’s husband T.J. impressed the rest of us by using the centerpiece candle to melt and sculpt his plastic silverware into a velociraptor, I would never have imagined that just a year later, my family and I would be living in a two-room house in the rural forest just outside of Cibola National Forest, New Mexico.

It just so happened that the Thanksgiving festivities for this year got planned for Saturday instead of Thursday. My wife’s wonderful parents, John and Karla (known around here as Dad 2 and Mom 2), are coming to visit, arriving tomorrow night. Liesl’s cousin Annie, her husband Pat, and their darling baby girl are coming as well. But the timing meant that we had absolutely no plans for Thanksgiving Day itself.

We slept late until 8:30 this morning, something that literally never happens around here. (I couldn’t sleep that late, mind you, but it was nice to get up and enjoy some early-morning quiet.) It rained all night last night, and the music of the rainfall this morning was beautiful. It later turned to a gentle snow that only lasted a short while, then turned back to rain. I couldn’t have asked for more perfect Thanksgiving weather.

I went into town for a short while to pick up the food we need for Saturday. It turns out Super Wal-Mart doesn’t close at all on Thanksgiving. That experience in itself was pretty amazing, as the store was the emptiest I have ever seen it. Normally, any time that the store isn’t flooded with customers, the aisles are full of stockpeople and pallets. Today, the aisles were completely empty, and the store was quiet. Even with Aidan and Kaylynn accompanying me, I managed to enjoy grocery shopping. I was as jovial and polite as I could possibly be to the unfortunate cashier who was unlucky enough to be scheduled on Thanksgiving, and thanked her for working even though I knew it probably wasn’t her preference. She smiled a very genuine smile and said, “You’re welcome.”

Back at the house, Liesl boiled a chicken (we decided that it would be a sin not to eat some sort of poultry on Thanksgiving) and I made dumplings and gravy. We ate dinner, just the five of us (plus the soon-to-arrive Wee Bear), around the table here in the Straw Bale House.

I asked Aidan to pray for our meal, something for which he usually volunteers anyway. His prayers are normally very predictable (“Thank you for today, thank you for our family, bless the food”) but today, completely unprompted, he prayed for the first time I can remember a very long prayer, thanking God for everything he could think of. He thanked God for the Straw Bale House. He thanked God for Grandad because he built the house. He thanked God for a computer so we can watch movies. And he thanked God for the Wee Bear.

I can’t really explain it, but it was a very poignant moment for me. Comparing this year to last year, I suppose we have less, at least as far as “stuff” is concerned. (This is largely intentional, but this time last year we lived in a beautiful, big house in the suburbs, and despite all the space we hardly had room for all our stuff.) There were far fewer people gathered around our Thanksgiving Day table this year, and the meal was much more humble. But in some strange way, I felt more blessed this Thanksgiving than any other year I can remember.

I have an amazing family.

I have children who awe and inspire me. I have a wife who is, without a doubt in my mind, the very best woman in the entire world.

I got to talk to my mom in Colorado today, and also to my dad who is wrapping up some relief work in New Orleans. I called my Grandpa Don for his birthday yesterday, and he sounded the best I’ve heard him sound in a long time — upbeat, full of energy, thoroughly enjoying life and looking forward to a year of being 78. Today, when I talked to my mom, she was at my Uncle Dan and Aunt Kim’s house where the Jackson Family Thanksgiving Celebration was taking place this year. I deeply missed seeing those various relatives, but in my absence, I thought of them and was thankful for each one in turn, as well as my many wonderful relatives on the Sanchez side of the family.

I have a wonderful brother, Dayvid, and four amazing sisters, Michelle, Amy, Heather, and Katie, each of whom I love dearly. I have an excellent nephew, Isaac, and two beautiful nieces, Harmony and Trinity.

By marrying my wife, I have been blessed with an incredible second family as well. I have a second mom and dad who love the Lord and love each other, who have blessed my family with their love and generosity and who inspire me to follow their example. In that same family, I have two brothers-in-law (Matt and Jesse) and a sister-in-law (Christine) of whom I am so incredibly proud for their service to our country, and the same goes for my sister Amy’s husband Nic who will soon be stationed again in North Carolina. Living in New Mexico, I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know and growing to love Granny and Grandad Turpen, my wife’s cousins Gabe and Beka Anast and their children, and even Liesl’s Aunty Penn via my blog.

And any day now, I get to be a daddy again.

Has any other man ever been so fortunate? Truly, this is a day to be thankful. Today, when I stop and consider all the amazing things that God has given to me and done for me, I can do nothing but say “thank you” as tears of gratitude come to my eyes.

Today, I feel like the richest man in the world.

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7 responses

27 11 2008
Jenn

Awwwwwwwwww… very sweet. Cheese-ball!

27 11 2008
Janna

I miss you guys something fierce. BTW my Grandma’s birthday also falls on Thanksgiving every few years – and this was one of them. She’s 94! I love you and I’ll call you tomorrow or Sunday. Kiss the fam for me.

28 11 2008
Emily Straw

We really missed you guys at our house this year. I told my mom after everything was done that something really felt missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it until late last night that I missed talking to you guys. It was kind of wierd this year – no cheesy potatoes, the “kids” and the “grownups” separated on two floors, and everyone is so grown up now. It was really nice but felt really off. I am thankful though that you guys are enjoying your time in New Mexico. I can’t wait to see you again!!

❤ Em

1 12 2008
pennepasta

What a lovely paean of thanksgiving, Rob in Gallup. And I’m honored to have had name recognition! You’d like Uncle George, too, but you’ll probably never seem his name near a blog.

What I thought about as I read it was the various Thanksgivings we’ve had since being married. And I could easily use your template, with changes in names and dishes, but with the one constant: family. Of course, one need not read too far between the lines to see that cousin Bertha and her father are feuding or that Mother thinks daughter-in-law Beulah isn’t raising the children well and uses too much mascara. But it wasn’t too long ago that I realized I tend to see family like an epic novel–James Michener-ish, with all those that have gone before, seated in the background, lending delicious color to eyes, hair and “how we do it here”. Scots, Welsh and Irish, German and Polish and Greek, and even Cherokee (in my case). And all the difficulties and sadnesses are just part of the fallen condition…and therefore, part of the epic. And, by God’s great mercy to us, He is the center, whether all know it or not. But I love being with family, no matter the ups and downs. And I’m more thankful than ever for every member, being so far from them for eight years.

And, although the girls told me I’d like you if I ever spent anytime around you, Rob In Gallup, it’s been wonderful getting to know you in this 21st century venue. Glad you’re part of my epic!

2 12 2008
Mom2

Glad to have had Thanksgiving with you this year. I hope we have many more.

11 12 2008
Heather Lynn

Everyone missed your family this year, you really have no idea. But I am so thankful that God was able to show you how fortunate your family is. God really does work in the most wonderful ways, and it is so great to read your blogs and hear about how much God is working in all of your lives. There is nothing quite like family! I love you so much and I will be so excited to see you when you are here. Have a safe trip out when you guys come. See you soon!!!

14 12 2008
Corrie

This is the most gentle thing I’ve read in a long time. Great description. So peaceful. Thank you for bringing tears to my eyes. And thank you for loving your wife and family so clearly. I hope that other people will read and be encouraged to love their spouses so humbly. Sweet Aidan, what a prayer. I’m so glad you guys are enjoying yourselves. What a blessing! Can’t wait to meet the new one! 🙂

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