Sharing Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to share with neighbors and others. Our family took this admonition very seriously.

To give thanks for blessings you first have to recognize them, of course. Blessings come in many forms.

For my grandfather in his early married life the small drops of blessings were hard to recognize in the Niagara of grief that poured over him. His beloved wife died leaving him with three small boys to care for. Later he finally cobbled together enough coins for a down payment on a farm just before the economy collapsed into the Great Depression. He lost his farm and never recovered financially. He married again. that was a mixed bag of blessings and woes. The mixture depends on whom you ask.

The three little brothers were hiding behind the couch one night when grandpa proposed marriage to their future step mother. Understandably, the boys were not excited about an outsider coming to take the place of their mother. In fact, to hear them tell it, Aunt Ethyl, as she would become known, did a sales job on Grandpa. “She said Ves, those boys need a mother. I’ve been a school teacher, and I know how to handle children.”

“Manhandle would be more like it,” the boys later grumbled. “Where was she a teacher, reform school? She always said she did it for our sake. We said she did it for hell sake.”

The family relationships were rocky to say the least according to the stories we grandchildren inherited. Here is where the blessing/problem mixture gets cloudier. The new blended family was immediately dysfunctional. That was a problem. But the new union produced six lovely daughters, so grandpa and Aunt Ethyl must have had something going for them. That was a blessing. The problems included feeding eleven mouths on a farm laborer’s pay. It made for a hard scrabble home life. On the other hand, they were spared the health problems that come with being overweight.

A few years later grandpa lost most of his hearing. That was another mixed bag.

The problem side of Grandpa’s deafness was that it kept him from close interactions with his family. The blessing side of his deafness was that it kept him from close interactions with his family.

In his marriage he couldn’t hear his wife grumble, but on the other hand when she did dump on him her shrill voice could peel the paint off the walls. As a little kid, to me she was scary.

Grandpa’s deafness was caused by bugs we were told. One hot summer day thinning sugar beets by himself he took a little siesta on the ditch bank after lunch. While he was asleep, a bug crawled into his ear and ate his ear drum. I bought that story. My older brother Gordon suspected there were more bugs in the story than they were telling us. “Two bugs one in each ear? What are the chances?” he asked me later.

We usually held thanksgiving at grandpa and Aunt Ethyl’s little house. The grown sons and their families, and the half sisters of varying ages packed the place.

The program was identical each year. Grandpa would call on somebody to bless the food since he himself was not a church going man he told us.

We would eat the chicken butchered from Grandpa and Aunt Ethyl’s little flock that morning. The dinner conversation was held in high decibels so Grandpa could hear what was being said.

After dinner the talk got even louder. It usually focused on the latest statesmanship or shenanigans, depending on your point of view, of Franklin D. Roosevelt. My father worked at Geneva Steel. During the depression he had also kept food on our table working on the government W.P.A. program. The official name was Work Progress Administration. Some other people called it W.P.A, We Piddle Around. Even Dad chuckled over that one but added that digging those ditches was some of the hardest work he had ever done. For all those reasons and maybe just to goad Uncle Dell, Dad hoped there was still enough rock at Mt. Rushmore to add Franklin Roosevelt’s face to Washington’s, Lincoln’s Jefferson’s, and FDR’s cousin Teddy.

Uncle Dell was an intimidatingly hard working and successful farmer, and later real estate entrepreneur. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was Uncle Dell’s second choice for president of the United States. His first choice was anyone else in the universe. Others in the family were of various persuasions, but equal intensity. The pace of verbal punch and counter punch took off and gathered speed. Then it was a shouting free for all. No problem about grandpa hearing now. The question was would we damage his ears further.

Watching wide eyed, listening wide eared, and feeling the walls shake I gave thanks that the roof stayed on.

And thus did we share Thanksgiving with the neighborhood, and half the town. And we gave them one more blessing to be thankful for. We wouldn’t be doing this again for another year.