Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Grandma's Last Thanksgiving

Once upon a time women weren't supposed to wear slacks to church because some people considered only dresses were proper.

Not my grandma. She liked the wrinkle-free double-knit slacks because they stretched enough through the seat to allow her to sit easily in a folding chair--and they almost always held their press. One winter afternoon my Grandma said not wearing slacks to church was foolish and went off to Ladies Aid in her double-knits.

Grandma never walked too fast, so she must have made quite a spectacle waltzing into that fellowship room. But no one said a thing, and the Bible study likely plodded along as usual, most of the women nodding at most everything the preacher said.

After the preacher closed with prayer, a couple of the women got up to set out the coffee and cookies.

"Why, Mabel," Alma said, "I just can't believe you're wearing pants in church."

Grandma raised an eyebrow. "Oh, this ain't the first time," she said. "I been wearing pants to church for years."

Always brimming with jokes, Grandma delighted in pulling fast ones.

And yet, when I remember Grandma every Thanksgiving, the effect is always serious, never playful.

When she was getting older, she was the holiday's queen. Even now, many years after her death, the smell of a roast turkey reminds me of how she used to stand at the table behind the chairs while everyone was seated, then look around at her children and grandchildren and nod, as if heaven itself were only a block down the sidewalk.

I wasn't home for her last Thanksgiving. My sister's family had her over, along with my parents. But in my imagination I can create the scene-the table drawn out into the living room, the inviting smell of turkey and stuffing wafting through the rooms, the tinkling of forks against my sister’s china.

When it was over, Grandma slowly leaned into the car and sat beside my parents on the trip home. She told them it was a good Thanksgiving. Then, her head fell sideways, and my father, sensing something bad, sped off to the hospital, where, not that many hours later, she died.

She played this last little joke on us, dying when she did, so that every Thanksgiving her memory haunts our holiday.

But that's okay. Thanksgiving becomes too easily a recital of "things we have": good health, good food, a nice house, two TVs, a computer, school, friends, church, and an iPod.

Somehow, Grandma's death on Thanksgiving reminds me of the silliness of such recitals. It reminds me of what God gave her--joy in life through faith not earned but given freely.

Thanksgiving is a fine harvest custom, but gratitude owns no special date on any calendar. For believers, gratitude is a whole wardrobe, not just a moth-balled costume we haul out for October or November use.

I like to think Grandma knows she's still Thanksgiving's queen. And I like to think that up there on the right hand where she's got her place at the table today, she still chuckles about that last fast one she pulled.

And then she nods--the way she used to right before the meal. Today, heaven; for her, is no longer a block away.


ricknieklikebike said...

My Grandma Marie Dykstra used to "string" her own beans. Amazing to me to this day. Grandpa (Renza Dysktra) would tell some kind of story about His first thanksgivings in Chicago. He and we also enjoyed stories about the first days of Dordt College. He was always very thankful about such things.

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Real Live Preacher said...

What a wonderful tribute.