Late September into October in western Maine could provide breath-taking panoramas of what many describe as “Indian Summer.” Those golden and red leaves of maple trees, the V-shaped flocks of Canadian geese heading south to their winter home along the coast, just after night fall, the lightning-like flashes of white, silvery sometimes red-tinged light streaking across the northern heavens displaying the sun glancing off Arctic ice, …that’s right, the Northern Lights, all beautiful signs of another changing season. Ah, but how quickly those blue skies and softly colored clouds shimmering lazily on the horizon of a majestic sunset fade away, making room for the inevitable winter freeze. Increasingly in November, harsh winds, falling leaves, freezing rain, and bitter temperatures usher in the approaching “holiday season.” Now, snow would typically have spit at us even in September, and sometimes as much as a foot. As Turkey Day would bring the promise of time off from school, mittens, scarfs and rubber boots would be seen more often. Still, the dreary clouds, cold rain, ice and snow, could not dampen the spirits of even the grumpiest among us…well, there was this one old codger…. the holidays were coming and it was time for warmer thinking, in spite of the weather.
As a teenager at my house, Thanksgiving was not so typical. The storybook type shows the family up early with fireplace blazing, relatives coming over for the big turkey meal, and then relaxing by the afternoon fire with warm drinks, stories and lots of laughter. Well, since my dad got that day off from the bank, and it was deer season, our day went more like this: he and I were up about 4:00 A.M., quick breakfast of biscuits and coffee, cocoa for me; put rifles, thermos of coffee, a couple sandwiches and other gear in the car and drive several miles in search of a white tail that would provide special table fare throughout the frigid winter months. Turkey was served when we got home, usually after dark, so about 5:30 P.M. or later. Nonetheless, our family was grateful for Dad’s day off, and if we were lucky, especially thankful for a little more meat when the cold winds would blow.
Early on, before I was twelve and old enough to carry my own rifle, several Thanksgivings were spent with Grampy and Mimi on their farm in Rangeley, Maine, up on the Kenebago Road. One year, Grampy’s sister from out of town and all her family came for the day. There were children my age and the day passed pleasantly. Eventually, when some of us were “about to die of starvation,” Mimi called us all to the large dining room table. Grampy always prayed in early morning devotions and at every meal; this day he asked a visiting relative if he would “say the blessing.” His reply just shattered the warmth of our happy time. He said, “I don’t need to thank God for nothin’; everything I ever got I got with these two hands.” Wow! Surely, I thought, the house will shake, lightning will flash, and God’s voice will thunder His displeasure at such ignorance and ingratitude. To my relief, Grampy quickly, but quietly responded, “I’m sure we all have plenty to be thankful for, now bow your heads.” He prayed a long time.
And, there you have it: for some then, and many now, Thanksgiving has little to do with a special reflection on our blessings. Today, it’s pretty much turkey, TV, and Tums…the three T’s of modern Thanksgiving Day! Throughout this time of year, my heart just stays a little more tender than usual. I feel serious sorrow for those whose hearts don’t seem to be touched by the difficult times of their neighbors or even their own relatives. Phone calls from my clients occasionally reflect the loneliness that he or she expects this “ho ho ho season” will again bring to them. Cold-heartedness is not genetic; it is, like other attributes, a learned and chosen behavior. It may be helpful to consider that our present attitude toward “holidays” and most everything else, does not just reflect our morning “thought of the day.” When we express opinions that just “pop in our heads,” those remarks emanate from our inner “heart” storehouse full of years of acceptance or rejection of various concepts we’ve heard spoken by others or read ourselves and actions witnessed and all internalized. Folks tell us our actions give away our “character.” Old sayings like, “birds of a feather,” and “by their fruits, you will know them,” paint a picture others see and form an opinion. And yes, I know this other old expression, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But, my dear reader friend, I’ve lived long enough to witness just the opposite for some folks and even their old dogs!
In the early 1900’s, William James, then president of Harvard University, once wrote, “the greatest achievement of my generation, is that people can alter their ways of life by altering their attitudes of mind.” Mull that over some. “We are what we think about all day long;” “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” In spite of age, we can change, we can grow, and, yes, thank you, Lord, we can outlive our past! You, too, can do this; be thankful, c’mon count a blessing or two and I promise, you may be surprised but with some practice, you can begin to make every day truly “Thanksgiving.”…from my heart to yours….See ya next time!