If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Two years ago, there were multiple births of children that curtailed travel and the usual Thanksgiving dinner at Grandpa’s. Last year, kids had the flu and this year, well, this year it’s COVID-19 that’s preventing this family from all parts to gather in Phoenix and share the turkey (and all the fixings) with the virtual patriarch of the family. Of course, there will be Zoom-ing, Skype-ing, and FaceTime-ing, but they all knew that it would simply not be the same. Well, at least to be a tad optimistic, Grandpa will not be alone because his youngest daughter and her family will join him and although it’ll be considerably smaller than most years of happy memory, it will be a Thanksgiving nonetheless giving God all the gratitude they could muster.
Grandpa was happy enough and if he was disappointed with just his daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter, whom he adored, as the only attendees, you couldn’t tell. Once the little family entered his home, they were greeted with a comforting gush of aromas that catapulted them all into another existence. The house smelled so good and comforting that signaled that this would be memorable Thanksgiving for more reasons than they were prepared to experience.
Perhaps the emotional worries that have accompanied many American families this year, with the virus and everything associated with it, may have slowly and silently built tension and worry. Remembering that our children see and hear everything we say and do, the little granddaughter seemed just a little out of sorts and perhaps a little needy and rambunctious, to a surprising degree, even to her parents, but not to this wise grandfather who had lived several generations than most and who knew anxiety in children when he saw it. He had already set part of the table with the items that he was best able to provide: mashed potatoes, delicious brown gravy, and of course, dinner rolls, that although he had not prepared from scratch, the fact that he bought them and presented them, made the bread that more delicious and nourishing. And this is when it happened. As her parents brought in the turkey, well packed and bountiful, their daughter immediately bypassed the traditional greeting and hug for Grandpa, went straight to the table, grabbed a roll and proceeded to plunge it into the gravy like Shamu at SeaWorld, and slam it into her mouth. Her parents were understandably horrified, and the yelling soon began but before any further knee-jerk dressing-down reaction could further be employed, Grandpa lovingly intervened. After directing the rest of the meal to be put on hold, he called everyone to the living room and with the portrait of his late wife and their loving grandmother smiling in the background, he started.
“Look,” he began. “I want to tell you all a story before we eat. We’re all we have in this world and I cannot let this moment turn into a family disaster that separates us more than we already are.”
Then he began with his little granddaughter on his lap:
“A Tibetan legend of the panda states that many, many years ago, when these bears lived in the Himalayas, they were completely white in color. They must have resembled polar bears more than any other creature at that time and they were very playful. They lived, as it were, in a type of wintery-Eden of seemingly pure innocence and peace. They were also friends with a certain shepherdess who would watch over the flocks and fields and seemed to be a type of protective yet, maternal figure for the cubs. And just like in the Garden of Eden, there was present in this snowy playground, mortal danger always lurking nearby. It was the angry leopard, ravenous and envious of the sweet laughter and love of these child-like and guiltless souls.”
“Late one afternoon, as the sun began to drop behind the majestic snow-capped mountains, the shepherdess began to herd all the bears home after a long day when she spotted a cub playing near the brush covering the base of the mountain. Suddenly, without warning, the leopard seized upon his wicked moment, leapt out in front of his young prey with only one deadly intention. The shepherdess ran with all her might toward them both and threw herself in front of the cub and, after a mighty struggle, remained lifeless and silent upon the earth which stood hard as iron. She was simply no match for the vicious claws and fangs of the evil predator and its barbarous intentions and died protecting innocence upon the frozen ground. The horrific sounds of the battle mixed with the cries of the panda cub echoed throughout the valley and brought the remaining den of bears quickly to the scene. They arrived utterly stunned in disbelief at the sight of such carnage and butchery, the pristine snow-covered ground now drenched in layers of bright red casualty.”
“The next day they gathered for the funeral of the brave girl who risked everything to save one of their own. With broken hearts and tear-soaked faces they approached the place of burial where, as was their custom, they would gather and throw black ashes upon the neatly shrouded body as it was made ready for its final resting ground. But it was too much for them. One after the other, they could not contain their cries of pain and anguish. With ashes still in their paws, they wiped their eyes, held each other tightly, arm upon arm, and then held their ears shut so as to block the sounds of their grieving pain while they sat miserably in the remaining heaps of the dark, cold cinders. The once ivory-white fur of these pandas was now blackened like the night as their guardian and friend was laid to rest.”
And then Grandpa concluded, “To this day, it is said, that those markings have remained to remind all of nature and all of humanity of that certain bravery and love until death, and to say, ‘Thank You.’”
After a healthy paused laced with a few cleansing, cathartic tears, this relieved microcosm of the universe returned to the table. One by one, with the magnificent Phoenix sunset as an almost literary backdrop, each detailed the people and things in this world for which they were most grateful. Little Granddaughter was last: “And I want to thank God for Grandpa!”
Grandpa acknowledged the youthful tribute with, “And I love you, too, Light of my Life!” After the prayerful grace and without instruction, the little girl lifted the breadbasket and offered a nice roll to everyone at the table, serving herself last. Crisis averted. Family intact and no worse for the wear.
Many who lived enough years have remarked in recent memory that by now we should have learned the obvious lesson that Thanksgiving should not be just a day, but truly a way of life. If there is anything to be learned by the strain placed upon our lives this year, especially by COVID-19, it is to be thankful each and every day for our existence. Why should we have to wait for just one day a year to tell those we love and treasure how much they mean to us?
What are you waiting for?
Always direct your thoughts to those truths that will give you confidence, hope, joy, love, thanksgiving, and turn away your mind from those that inspire you with fear, sadness, depression. Caro Vanni
But see, in our open clearings, how golden the melons lie; Enrich them with sweets and spices, and give us the pumpkin pie! Margaret Junkin Preston
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“I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.” Erma Bombeck