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Padre Steve’s Reasons for Thanksgiving in 2013

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“Be thankful for what you have. Your life, no matter how bad you think it is, is someone else’s fairy tale.” Wale Ayeni 

Judy and I celebrated a wonderful Thanksgiving today with some dear friends. We had it easy, our job was to bring the growlers of Gordon Biersch Beer, which is a lot easier than having to cook. Our friends prepared a wonderful meal and as we talked, ate drank and watched football we were reminded that Thanksgiving really is about being thankful for all things in life.

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We have a lot to be thankful for and no matter how hard we have had it at times over the years we have it pretty good. Today was a nice day. Had we not gone over to our friends we probably would have invited people without family in the local area over. We have done that before. The past few years with me being either deployed or stationed away from Judy when we had thanksgiving together we would either cook a small traditional meal at home or go out. When we got home we watched a movie and hung out with our dogs Molly and Minnie.

At least though what we are thankful for on Thanksgiving has changed over the years. Mark Twain described the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Twain as opposed to those who mythologize the Pilgrims and those who followed them was actually a pretty fair summation:

“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.” 

I think my most memorable Thanksgiving in the past decade is Thanksgiving in Iraq back in 2007. At that time we had just come in from a mission in the far reaches of Anbar Province, a mission which had to be curtailed because visiting congressmen had sucked up most of the air assets. It was interesting to be in cold tents and air terminals sleeping on cots with several hundred others in the same boat. So after three days of being marooned at an intermediary stop we got a flight back to our home base.

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When we got back I was one of the servers, working alongside the vastly underpaid and overworked contract workers from India and Sri Lanka employed by an company affiliated with KBR-Halliburton in the DFAC or Dinning Facility. Those guys worked for 2 years 6 days a week, 12 hour days for about $8000 of which half was paid to the agent that hired them. I developed a healthy appreciation for these wonderful people who always kept a good attitude even when some Americans treated them rudely over things that they often had no control. Many were Catholic or Anglican Christians who were incredibly gracious despite their situation. My friend Fr Jose Bautista made sure that he celebrated Mass at their compound which was away from the main areas of the base.

Despite being exhausted from the trip worked the line for a couple of hours cracking jokes with our Marines, Sailors, Soldiers Airmen and civilians as well as the DFAC employees. It is a Thanksgiving that I will always remember, especially because of the people and being away from home and knowing that I would be going out again soon to the far reaches of the province.

Thus I always remember my brothers and sisters deployed in harm’s way and those deployed or stationed away from their families and friends at home.

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Today was wonderful and tomorrow will be spent around the house helping Judy do some cleaning and getting ready to put up our Christmas decorations over the weekend. Since I am not a fan of the craziness of Black Friday this will be a fairly relaxing day.

I do wish you and yours a blessed weekend and pray that your Thanksgiving went well.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thanksgiving Memories Then and Now: Padre Steve’s Humorous Look at Our National Day

 

It is better to give than to receive so it is time to give thanks for all the blessings that I have received since last Thanksgiving, but before I do I have to philosophize just a bit.

You see while I am thankful for much I generally find that Thanksgiving Day leaves much to be desired. Not that I am adverse to giving thanks or being extremely grateful but I am really more of a Christmas kind of guy. I’m also not a big fan of getting up early to watch parades on TV, or for that matter especially in person.  I’d rather watch the man made disasters of when the big balloons that got away on the news or on You Tube.

I think it would be more fun since we are becoming a police state if we mounted surveillance cameras and Hellfire missiles on the floats. Could you see the surprise in the faces of terrorists and even law abiding citizens when they realized that Snoopy, Garfield and the Cat in the Hat were targeting them. If we have to live in a police state I think it should it might as well be fun.

Enough about parades, after all who cares about parades anyway when you can watch what are historically some of the worst professional football games of the season.  Today the 4-6 Detroit Lions will find yet another way to lose on Thanksgiving as they play the 9-1 Houston Texans as they play in the Sacrificial Lamb Bowl. The 5-5 Dallas Cowboys play the revived 4-6 Washington Redskins in the Mediocrity Bowl. In a third game on prime-time the 7-3 New England Patriots will play the 4-6 New York Jets in the I Hate You and Everything that You Stand For Bowl.  I have no idea how we ended up with those teams year after year on Thanksgiving but I guess for Cowboys fans, Jets fans and all 964 Lions fans it works well, not that there is anything wrong with that.

While the professional football players ready themselves for combat the professional bargain hunters are preparing for their own form of mortal combat where no prisoners are taken and the weak to do not survive. Yes it is “Black Friday Eve” and though many will sacrifice by camping outside of stores in abominable weather, deceiving potential rivals to get a better place in line and if need be resorting to violence to make their Christmas wishes come true.  As for me I will avoid big retailers like the plague and do almost all of my shopping online where I feel safe in my virtual world.  The sad thing in this is that so many employees of the big stores are already at work preparing for the Black Friday deals and sales that they will not be with their families, friends or other loved ones today. But who cares about them? If we can get a big HDTV made by slave laborers in China at big savings  isn’t it worth it?

I like the times to get together and spent time with family and friends, though due to my military career it has been years since we have spent Thanksgiving with family.  There is something about a 3000 mile buffer zone that comes with being in the military that makes it hard to get to and from the West Coast. My brother will be hosting this at his home this year with his family, my mom and his in-laws. He’s a better man than me. Of course as many can attest even in the most loving and functional families holiday get-togethers were not always the most enjoyable occasions.  It is the stuff that movies are made of when after the mandatory grace was said and tempers flared and people stormed outside while the children found new ways to get under their parents skin. I was especially good at the latter.

Stephen Colbert says it this way: “Thanksgiving is a magical time of year when families across the country join together to raise America’s obesity statistics. Personally, I love Thanksgiving traditions: watching football, making pumpkin pie, and saying the magic phrase that sends your aunt storming out of the dining room to sit in her car.”

But food is the centerpiece of any true Thanksgiving celebration is the Thanksgiving Dinner and the source of many pleasant memories as well as those we would like to forget but due to the trauma cannot. Most of these dishes were prepared by certain elderly relatives including my Granny who could tell you the history of any dish that appeared on the table, to include who gave it to here how many weeks prior to the event.

There was the ever present green bean salad frequently bathed in something that might have been mayonnaise or possibly Cool Whip.  Now the fact that it was spruced up a bit with Chernobyl Onions, boiled potatoes, slimy mushrooms or other additives that remain a mystery to this day didn’t make it any better, just more challenging to wonder who came up with the idea.

Another positively scary dish was the puke green Jell-O salad which I think was made of Jell-O, mayonnaise and would have canned pineapple or dry cat food thrown in just to make sure that there was something real in this unearthly concoction.  Of course one cannot forget the times that the Turkey didn’t turn out quite right being underdone or charred beyond belief.  The stuffing stuck to everything like a chunky primordial slime or mashed potatoes resembled Potato soup or were so chewy and dry that you had to add more of the 40 weight Pennzoil gravy just to get them down.  My late mother in law had a delicacy that we called Brown and Burn rolls and my late paternal Grandmother “Granny” who I have previously mentioned had something white, which might have been meat in white gravy but has never been identified despite the best efforts FBI forensics investigators.

Of course in many household the children serve a purpose akin to that of a Persian Emperor’s official food taster.  I can remember as a kid being forced to eat something from almost every dish on the table just to make sure that Aunt Betty Lou Who or Grammy Sue Who (the names have been changed to protect their memories) would not be offended if no one ate what they prepared.

Now not everything was bad as most of the time no matter how badly everything else turned out the pie was good, well at least in most cases.  My favorite pie at Thanksgiving was one that a trio of my Great Aunts made. Now these aunts were really great, when we went to their house on 18th Street in Huntington West Virginia for Thanksgiving or any other occasion they laid out a wonderful spread, but the most delightful dish was their Graham Cracker Pie. This is a pie, well that was a dumb statement, of course it was pie, but this pie had a home-made graham cracker and cinnamon crust, was filled with vanilla pudding, the good stuff, not instant and a meringue top which was encrusted with the graham cracker cinnamon mix.  Thankfully Judy had Aunt Viva, the last of the trio write down the recipe before she passed away and she has made it on occasion keeping this one family delicacy alive.  In addition to the Graham Cracker Pie there was Banana Crème and Chocolate Crème, Pumpkin and Sweet Potato, Apple, Cherry as well as other pies that would make an occasional appearance.

Not Thanksgiving Day but close enough: Dinner with General Sabah in Ramadi

As I noted we have been away from family most of our married life and we have frequently spent Thanksgiving with friends, many times single people that we hosted other times people that would host us and those were always enjoyable. I have also spent a good number of Thanksgivings deployed and those have been special, especially 2007 when I was in Iraq and after a mission to the Syrian border when I helped to serve the troops at the dining facility.  Those times make you very thankful and not in a joking sense about all the blessings that we have in the United States.

As most readers know I am just a tad irreverent at times and nowhere was this more in evidence than Thanksgiving 1991 when we hosted a number of our single friends from work or church since none of us were very well off, I was still in seminary and money was not a great commodity. Judy asked me since I was going into ministry if I would pray for the food. That was not a good way to phrase the question because at times, well most of the time tend to find the dark humor in anything and this time was no exception. I think the prayer went something like this. I’m sure that it was longer than this because there are times when I get on a roll and can’t shut up, but this captures the spirit of that “prayer for the food.”

Dear Lord we ask you to be with the soul of this turkey and all of his or her relatives this Thanksgiving. Relieve them of their pain and comfort the survivors in Jesus name. Amen.

As I prayed I noticed Judy glaring daggers at me as our guests looked on in dismay.  To this day she always keeps a foot ready to kick me just in case I try something like this again. Likewise she is always careful in how she phrases what she wants me to pray for lest I become too literal in my prayer.

This year I have much to be thankful for, my wonderful wife Judy, friends, family and my little dog Molly who over the course of the past year has helped me become a functional part of human society again. Then there is Minnie, our new addition, a 10 month old Papillon puppy who is always happy to drink my beer or coffee should I leave it in her range.

The Giants won the World Series, the Orioles and A’s surprised everyone by rocking the playoffs the 49ers are doing well and UCLA defeated USC.

As  sit here with Molly at my feet and Minnie on Judy’s lap on this quiet and peaceful Thanksgiving.

Have a blessed day! Happy Thanksgiving friends.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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