I can close my eyes and see him sitting there. His elbows are on the table and his hands are folded. He is waiting for the hubbub to die down, for everyone to find their place at the table. There is one last shift and shuffle, chairs scraping across the linoleum floor as each finds his or her place. His beloved wife, my grandmother, wipes her hands against her apron and brings one last steaming dish to the table. She takes her seat at the other end, he nods, and we are ready. All heads bow as my grandfather begins to utter the words. The sibilant sounds rise and fall from his lips. He is thanking God for the bounty and suddenly I am sitting here so many years later thanking God once again for him. This humble gentle farmer who never raised his voice to me or anyone else that I can ever recall. He was the proverbial Rock of Gibraltar. He and my grandmother both. Faithful to the end. Lovers of family, friends, community and church, and deep deep lovers of God. They were certainly never wealthy as the world defines wealth. Yet they possessed riches untold, riches so deep that they are still being mined today. Riches remembered as my aunts and my cousins gathered in the kitchen of that house one last time yesterday.
My cousin lifted the wheelchair out of the car. All week long they had wondered if my aunt would be able to leave the Hospice wing of the nursing home to make the trip to her home for one last meal. Thanksgiving. She did. Today I am giving thanks that strong backs, strong arms, the sacrificing love of her sisters, and a hospital who understood prevailed. That plus the indomitable spirit of this once adventurous aunt. It wasn't easy. In fact, it was downright hard. But it was what everyone wanted, most especially this aunt and her precious sisters. In a perfect world, I expect my father would have been there, too. He, who left this world too soon as a young, young man.He would have been there helping my cousin lift the chair. He would not be that young man forever frozen in time, gone at 34. He would be in his eighties, hair gray, but eyes still twinkling. There is little doubt that my aunt will be seeing him soon. The disease that is ravaging her body is robbing her of her ability to cope with daily life. She is withdrawing from this world. The ship is getting ready to sail.
By God's grace, and the love of my aunts and cousins, she made it home yesterday to sit at that table once again. As has happened so many times over the years, heads were bowed. Thanks were given. A meal was blessed. A family heritage of hope, faith, and love was celebrated. It was and is Thanksgiving at its best.