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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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Thanksgiving 2012

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” G K Chesterton

Well I am thankful. It is Thanksgiving eve and I am at home with Judy as well as our tow dogs, Molly and Minnie.

Molly and I made the trip up from North Carolina where I am stationed today. The trip wasn’t too bad, there were only a few people who felt the urge to do 43 MPH in 55 zones on US 17 just because they could and not violence from other drivers.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year, after all the Bible says to be thankful in all things, unless God is mad at you and you are forced to wear sackcloth and ashes while watching your family fall into a flaming abyss for your mistakes or unless you are Karl Rove. But never mind that, it is important to give thanks.

In that I am grateful for so much this year and so many people. It is hard to believe how many people have been a blessing to me this year and hopefully I have had the opportunity to be a blessing to as well.

Tomorrow we have decided to do something that we have not done in a long time. Spend a simple and uncomplicated day together with our dogs. We have got the turkey, several varieties of deli turkey breast that we do not need to awake at the crack of dawn to prepare and Judy will make the stuffing and we will fix all the fixings that go with them. In the evening we may take in a movie and if any of our friends are alone we will invite them over. It will be nice, we have much to be thankful for and hope that your Thanksgiving day will be full of blessings, even unexpected ones.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve Gives Thanks:Thanksgiving 2011

No matter what we do for Thanksgiving or who we celebrate it with  I will only get to do the prayer under supervision due to an incident like this 20 years ago.

Let’s face it 2011 has been tough. There is trouble in River City. Wars, famine, economic turmoil, massive unemployment, Europe and the Middle East in turmoil, social and political division, the epic collapse of the Braves and Red Sox and so many other calamitous events that it makes ones head spin like Linda Blair in the Exorcist.

Yet on the 4th Thursday of November we as a nation stop just for a moment to give thanks.  I really don’t know of any other country that stops everything to give thanks before going absolutely bananas for holiday bargains the next day practically sacrificing their firstborn for the latest electronic gadget, game or entertainment system, but I digress.

We stop. Almost everything but the transportation system and football stadiums shuts down as we pause just for a moment to say thank you. Millions of people will take to the road to be with loved ones or to simply “get away” over the next few days, airports will be clogged and some travelers will go through hell in order to observe a day of thanksgiving.

Many of us will thank God for his blessings while others will simply pause to reflect on what they have and the people that bring meaning, love and joy to their lives.  Others believers and unbelievers alike will find it difficult to give thanks because of their circumstances but will try to find something to be thankful for. For some that may simply be having a place to stay for a night out of the cold or a meal served up by volunteers at a shelter but if you have ever wondered where the next meal was coming from or how you would pay your rent it is much easier to understand. The staff of our hospital provided Thanksgiving food baskets and give cards to over well 100 families this year more than twice the number given last year.  Times are hard and even people with jobs are not doing as well in many cases as they did in past years. Likewise our area took a lot of damage during Hurricane Irene this summer.

Some find time to give thanks in spite of adversity and give of themselves to serve others even as the rest of the country enjoys a day off. Military, Law Enforcement, Emergency Services and Medical professionals will spend their days serving and protecting their neighbors.

Many Americans including friends and the children of friends serve overseas in harm’s way as members of the U.S. Military and other Federal agencies fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq or deployed in support of those operations. I spent Thanksgiving 2007 in Iraq and have lost count of the number of Thanksgiving days that I have spent away from my wife and my family while serving in the military.  Thankfully I will be able to drive up to see my wife on Thanksgiving morning.  I don’t know what our plans are yet but we will be together and that is something to be thankful for.

Personally I am thankful for much this year.  We have survived the first year of a three year tour with me as a geographic bachelor. I was promoted to the rank of Commander in the Navy, something that in these times is a blessing.  I work in a great place with great people doing what I like to do and what I am called to do. My family both Judy as well as my mom, brother and his family are doing relatively well.

I still struggle with some of the effects of PTSD but I am doing better. I do still struggle especially with sleep issues but because I have been through the PTSD experience I am better able to understand and empathize with those that suffer from it and all the related forms of combat stress, depression, anxiety and panic disorders.

I have a tremendous amount to be thankful for this year and I am very thankful to those that read this website and those that comment on various articles. I am blessed to have all of you as part of my life.

My hope for you is that this Thanksgiving will be a time of joy for you and those that you love.  For those that have much please remember those in need, for those in harm’s way overseas we pray for your safe return and for those that serve at home today to protect life and health and look to the needs of the less fortunate may God bless you for your work.

Peace and blessings. Happy Thanksgiving!

Padre Steve+

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Thanksgiving 2010: Thanks for the Memories and Things to be Thankful for this Year

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.

Let’s Get Snoopy to keep watch on potential terrorists, he has the binoculars so why not?

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!

Padre Steve+


[i] The names have been changed to protect their memory

 

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