For most of my childhood, Thanksgiving Day was spent with my father’s family at a farm about an hour from Pensacola. When I was young, that one hour felt more like four or five hours, particularly when I sat in the backseat, my brother and I separated by a sweet potato casserole. Even when we hit the dirt road which would bring us to the farm, I knew that the wait for the meal had only just begun. There were lots of good distractions at the farm, though, horses and dirt bikes to name two of my favorite. With my mother preoccupied by cooking responsibilities, I enjoyed unusual freedom from her watchful, sometimes overprotective, eye.
Most of my eleven cousins have “broken bone” and “stitches” stories which transpired in those hours of waiting for our turkey meal. The closest I have ever been to needing stitches happened right before thanksgiving dinner once when I was in high school. My cousin persuaded me to mount his skateboard. The road that had appeared flat all those years suddenly became mountainous. I ended up rolling down the road into a ditch. Considering some of “the cousin” injuries, I faired pretty well.
Though memories of Thanksgiving vary from family to family, there are a few markers of this special day which seem to be ubiquitous, eating too much and spending time with loved ones at the top of the list. No matter where I have been for Thanksgiving, even when this meal has not been shared with my parents and cousins, a have still known family on this day, passing the turkey and gravy around the table, taking a moment to count my blessings. This Thanksgiving was no exception. As members of my battalion, now Task Force Viper, gathered around tables, exclaimed aloud excitement over cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie, the feeling of family was undeniable. It may not have been what we would have hoped for, being so far away from loved ones, but it was good and rich and full nonetheless. As we ate our fill and regaled stories of our favorite Thanksgiving traditions, there was an unmistakable feeling of home.
Once everyone passed through the “chow” line, the room was called to attention, and I blessed our meal. I can’t say a blessing without thinking of my dad. His eloquent words of grace resound in my head whenever I am asked to pray over a meal. In recent years, I have noticed that he always blesses those present around the table as well as who those present represent. Those who are physically present and those who are with us in spirt, I guess in a way, they are one and the same.
Maybe I have noticed his blessings because I spend so much time away from my family’s table, not present with them. When I have heard his words in recent years, they have helped me to remember that our connection to one another extends beyond what meets the eye. Presence is as much a matter of the heart as it is a physical state of being. Whether or not my father said the grace this Thanksgiving, I know that for a moment my family, as well as the families of all of my soldiers, took time to recognize that the table reached across quite a few time zones today.
For those who we sit beside and for all the rest who are a part of our hearts, there is much to be thankful for. As we take the time to express gratitude for all the blessings that we have known, it seems fitting to remember that giving thanks, pausing to tell our family and friends just how much they mean to us, should be an every day thing, not just once a year. Sometimes it takes two hundred plus bags of homemade chex mix and a couple of bigger than life-sized turkeys to remind us of what we already know. Whatever it takes....