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 not a big fan of getting up early to watch parades I’d rather watch 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 them and used Snoopy, Garfield and others to spy on our citizens and blast any potential terrorists. If we have to have a police state I think it should it might as well be fun. Who cares about parades anyway when you can watch what are historically some of the worst professional football games of the season as we watch the Detroit Lions find yet another way to lose on Thanksgiving and the Dallas Cowboys play a sacrificial lamb just for the fun of it. Now it may be different this year because the Lions are winning some games and playing well for them, while the Cowboys after a horrible start to the season seem to have turned things around. I have no idea how we ended up with those teams year after year on Thanksgiving but I guess for Cowboys and all 964 Lions fans it works well, not that there is anything wrong with that.
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 makes it hard to get to and from the West Coast. Of course as many can attest family get-togethers were not always the most enjoyable occasions when after the mandatory grace was said and tempers flared certain elderly relatives rather tormented gastronomical delicacies appeared on the table to cause one to wonder how they ever lived so long.
But food is the centerpiece of any true Thanksgiving celebration is the Thanksgiving Dinner. Of course I have many less than fond memories associated with of the rather insidious entrees prepared by the aforementioned elderly relatives which color my views of Thanksgiving to the current day.
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 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[i] 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.
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. The first is that I have had my faith return after almost two years where I felt abandoned by God and was for all practical purposes an agnostic following my return from Iraq and struggle with PTSD, depression and anxiety after my deployment. Faith has returned, different but much better than what I had been through. Believe me a crisis in faith bordering on despair is not a good place to be and I don’t want to go there again. In addition to the return of faith I am thankful for my family, especially Judy and our little dog Molly. The year was tough because my father died in June after a seven year bout with Alzheimer’s disease, but while in California I was able to spend good time with my brother and his family as well as my mother. I am sincerely thankful for my friends all over the world and my colleagues at work. I’m thankful for all those that stood by me in my struggles over the past several years, good friends and colleagues are hard to come by but I have been blessed to have them. I’m thankful that I was selected for promotion to Commander which means that I continue to have the opportunity to serve the people that I love in the Sea Services. Likewise I am thankful that I was selected to be Command Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune and for the wonderful staff that I am honored to serve alongside as we care for the Marines and Sailors wounded in body, soul or spirit in the current war. I am also grateful for my friends at Gordon Biersch Virginia Beach, the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish, St. James Episcopal Church, my old friends in the Charismatic Episcopal Church and my new friends Bishop Diana Dale and the clergy of the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church.
I am also incredibly thankful for the fact that the San Francisco Giants win their first World Series since they moved to the West Coast in 1958. Go Giants!
Today we will meet a friend at a restaurant as Judy sprained her ankle, big toe on the opposite foot and wrist in a fall at church last weekend and is still not 100%. That’s too bad because she is unable to make pie this year. Perhaps I will watch a football game but more likely we will enjoy some movies or Boston Legal episodes as we recover from our dinner out.
I do pray that you have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving full of life, love, family and friendship, and remember to pray for those in harm’s way and if possible do something for one of the least, the lost and the lonely today.
Oh, and by the way be careful of that addictive 40 weight Pennzoil gravy; it has a tendency to turn the bloodstream to sludge.
Peace and Happy Thanksgiving!
[i] The names have been changed to protect their memory