Thanksgiving. Lewis Black said it best when he said "Let's face it. Christmas starts at Halloween. Thanksgiving is Christmas halftime.".
Looking back on my life, I can remember a time when Thanksgiving was it's own holiday. A time when we gathered at grandma and grandpa Hill's and various family members started arriving. I don't recall many Thanksgivings with my dad's side of the family. Maybe there wasn't time, I really don't know. But I do remember the Hill's Thanksgivings.
The big dinner was always in the evening, although people would start arriving a lot earlier to catch a ballgame with Grandpa before we sat to give thanks.
We would gather in the old house on 54th Terrace in Kansas City. We all didn't arrive at once. Great Grandma and Margaret would be there. Aunts and uncles would tow my cousins in at a pretty decent pace. Most of my them would be there. Dan didn't come home for Thanksgiving that I recall, saving his trip back home for Christmas. Jack and June would be there with quiet Phil, talkative Dawn and cute Tim. My family would arrive after Jack and I immediately sought out my Aunt Sue for company. Mel and Eva would parade their family in led by Pete with Drew bringing up the rear and numerous other cousins (Ellen, Jean, Judy, Jim, John and Jerry) in between. At this point the house was beginning to get just a little crowded.
We would set up a table at the end of the dining room table and another table off of it into the living room of the small house. Food would begin to show up on the big table and plates and flatware would be placed all around. Then we would all stand around and talk. I use to enjoy listening to Grandpa talk to Mel and Jack about whatever topic they happened to land on. It could be football or politics or stories from the railroad where Granpa was still working actively and helping to run the union down there.
Inevitably, someone at some point in time would bring up the annual question of "Where's Bus and Jane?" After what seemed an eternity after that question was asked Here he would come. The last remaining hold out. Bus and Jane along with Tommy, Denny and Liz. I remember at Buster's funeral my cousin Pete making a comment that for once, buster wasn't late. Pete said it and it got laughs, but there was a lot of truth to it as well.
Once Buster was there I knew that dinner would commence in about an hour. There was time needed for Bus and his brothers and Grandpa to talk about some new topics that Bus had brought to the gathering. Soon though, Grandma would announce that we should find out places and that Thanksgiving dinner was about to begin.
My grandpa was a very spiritual and religious man. I always saw him as more spiritual than religious but that is a debate for another time. At ordinary dinners over the course of the year, grandpa had pretty much a standard prayer that he would say to bless the food before we ate and sometimes it just seemed a little like a habit, although deep in his heart I know it was more than a habit when grandpa prayed before eating no matter what the words were. He was very sincere in every prayer I ever heard him say.
There were times though when his prayers would come from deep within and his emotions would be let loose as he prayed. Christmas was one of those times as well as Easter. Thanksgiving was one of those times as well. Grandpa understood thanksgiving. He had a lot to be thankful for and he knew it.
Looking back on those Thanksgivings from years ago, Grandpa's prayer before the dinner was probably the highlight of the holiday. I wasn't old enough to appreciate what was being prayed through his words though. His prayers displayed a love of God, family and country. He knew he wasn't accomplishing anything by himself but accomplishing things with a lot of help from those he was thankful for.
When his prayer was finished there always was just a slight moment of silence as the final words of his prayer sank into the hearts of those gathered with him. Then Thanksgiving began and the family became one as we ate and talked, played and argued, or just sat back and enjoyed.
What am I thankful for? I am thankful that I grew up in a time when Thanksgiving truly meant giving thanks and I am thankful that I had grandpa there to teach all of us how to be truly gracious and thankful with humility and love.