Thanksgiving never works out quite the way you planned and certainly not the way you want it.
In your imagination, you dream of a beautiful day – clear blue skies and bright sunshine bringing out the golds and oranges and ambers and reds of the autumn trees.
You picture family members coming up the sidewalk carrying casserole dishes, the front door swinging wide as they are greeted with warm smiles and hugs as they are swept into the living room to mingle with the rest of the relatives.
Children play happily underfoot, giggling and whispering as they share their toys, as the fragrance of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and rolls mingle with the spicy scent of desserts that show up only at Thanksgiving.
A voice – tinged with pride – rings out, announcing that dinner is served! And everyone gathers around the big table, covered with the fancy tablecloth and cloth napkins and best dishes that are brought out only for the most special of special occasions. Grandpa stands quietly as everyone cheerfully shuffles into place around the table, and then everyone falls silent as he bows his head and begins to pray in a voice that is so warm, so familiar, not only to the beloved family who fill that room, but also to the Lord to whom he speaks.
“Bless us, O Lord,” he says … and your heart overflows with the knowledge that you are, truly, truly blessed.
But it doesn’t quite work out that way.
The dry summer means that all the leaves just turned brown and fell off the trees, and nobody had time to rake so they are scattered all over the lawn as if someone had spilled a giant bag of brown potato chips.
Nobody cooks anymore and you aren’t even sure you have a baking pan that will accommodate a turkey, and turkey is such a mess and the kids fight over the drumsticks and the wishbone so maybe we ought to just go with a ham this year, and while we’re at it why don’t we just pick one up at the grocery deli along with a couple of plastic tubs of potato salad, along with a package of those sugar cookies with the sprinkles, and call it a day.
Aunt Bess and Aunt Marie aren’t speaking again – nobody knows why, again – so you have to endure strings of furious text messages as everyone in the family takes sides, and if this one is going to be there, that one isn’t coming, and by the time it’s all said and done, you don’t even want to be there yourself – and you’re the hostess.
But everyone does show up – of course they do, you think darkly to yourself; they always show up for a free meal – and the kids are squabbling with one another and running through the house and one is crying because another won’t share his toys and another one is driving everyone crazy singing “Baby shark doo doo do do do doo” over and over and over.
“Well, come and get it,” someone finally says, frustrated, and why not because everyone has been going in and out of the kitchen anyway nibbling on the ham and filling up on cookies, so you might as well get this over with.
Paper plates and plastic forks, and you forgot about napkins so there is a roll of paper towels over by the sink, not that any of these slobs know what a napkin is for anyway, but they jostle into line and load up their plates and then move into the living room where the guys want football and the kids want cartoons and Grandma wants the parade and the cousins are arguing again about who gets to sit in the big chair and you just want peace and quiet and for someone to explain why in the world you even go through this circus every year.
But just then, just as you are ready to pick up your plate and go hide out in the laundry room until everyone leaves – someone says, “Well, let’s say grace.”
There’s that awkward moment when a couple of forks, full of food and halfway to open mouths, are lowered, and everything falls silent – well, except for that little voice singing “Daddy shark doo doo …”
“Bless us, O Lord …”
Words we don’t say as often as we should, a sentiment we don’t embrace as deeply as we could …
And you wipe a tear from your cheek with a square of paper towel, and you look up around the crowded room at your family, these people who come together at least once a year no matter what, and you realize how very truly blessed you really are.