A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanksgiving Always Came First

My blogger friend, Jim Sullivan (aka Suldog), has written a wonderful article for The Boston Herald, which you can read here.  Jim has also addressed the same topic on his widely read blog, located here.  What Jim is speaking of is the fact that we have placed so much importance on the retail side of Christmas that our society is practically overlooking the uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving.  And he's right.

I remember once when my brother Phil and his wife Glenda brought over a Christmas present for somebody in the house; I don't remember who.  I was astonished, because it was like on about December 3rd or something, and I'd never encountered a Christmas present that early before.  "Holy Cow!" I thought; "it's awfully early for a Christmas present!"

Most of my memories about Thanksgiving from the early days are centered around school.  We studied about the Pilgrims, and that first brutal winter they experienced.  Our studies were augmented with a generous supply of coloring sheets, the educational value of which might be questioned by some, but not me.  The Indians, I recall, helped the Pilgrims by teaching them how to work the land.  There is one specific story and image that I cannot shake, although I have seen no reference to this anywhere since whichever teacher first planted it in my brain.  It is the image of a kind, smiling Indian, showing a Pilgrim farmer how to dramatically increase his yield of corn by placing a fish next to the seed being planted.  No picnic, certainly, for the fish, but it made sense at the time.  Now, that story sounds like it could be a combination of two entirely different stories that somehow got melded into one, like some sore of parasitic twin, but I have no way of knowing. 

Thanksgiving was one of the only two times that we ever had turkey, the other being Christmas.  To go with the turkey, Mama made a cornbread-type dressing that to this day remains unequaled.  I know that Mama's favorite part of Thanksgiving was the leftover dressing that we had for a day or two later.  After my brothers were all married and had families of their own, we still somehow always managed to get together at Mama and Daddy's house for Thanksgiving.  My Aunt Addie and Uncle Joe were always there too.  Addie usually made one of those cranberry/jello salads, and could always be counted on to have some Little Debbie treats, just in case we ran out of desserts.  Mama and Daddy's little house was packed with people; you could travel from the living room to the kitchen and hear four or five different discussions going on simultaneously.  I know this sounds hokey, but you could actually feel the love that these people had for each other.  There was a palpable sense of joy about the place; laughter radiated from every room.  Mama and Addie loved to tell stories about growing up, and the adventures that the seven Waganer children experienced as they moved from place to place, following the sawmill that their dad set up. 

So you see, we can't overlook something like this.  We can't let it be the day you rest up so that you can get up at 2:00 a.m. and go shopping.  It's more than that.  If you happen to believe, like I do, that there's a God who cares about you, it's a time to let Him know you appreciate that.  It's a time to recognize that maybe not everything you have came from your own efforts; maybe there are such things as "blessings."  So, with that in mind, here are a few of the blessings I'm thankful for:

    L to R:  Me, Laura, Ross, and Marilyn.
  • My wife Marilyn.  Ten years ago, I was alone and unhappy.  If someone had told me that I would marry the most beautiful girl in my graduating class of 1974 at Waldron High School, I would have questioned your reasoning ability.  But, in 2004, at our 30th reunion, Marilyn and I remet, and we were married 3 months later.  Thanks God.  You outdid yourself on that one.
  • My health.  In 2003 I stared down cancer, and for seven days prepared for my death.  But I was given my life back, and a chance to fix what was broken.  A luxury not afforded to most.  I'll tell you that story soon.
  • My two children.  Well, technically, they're my stepchildren, but they're still mine.  Ross is a teacher, soon to complete the requirements for his Master's Degree.  Laura is a doctor, finishing up her final year of residency before starting her own practice.  They are both brilliant, wonderful people, who have warmly accepted me into their lives.  I'm blessed.
  • Little Kate.
  • Kate.  My little granddaughter, Ross and Maegan's child.  Words cannot express my feelings.
  • The Extended Yates Family.  I could go on and on here.  Just let me say that Mama and Daddy, my brothers Gary, Gene, and Phil, my twin sister Janet, and their families mean the world to me.  We had to say goodbye to Mama a few years ago, and Daddy's not in the best of health, but somehow we still manage to get together from time to time and visit.  If there's anything good in me, it came from them.
  • Gus and Gracie.  Yes, I'm thankful for my two dogs, the little rats.
  • My relationship with God.  I grew up in a little church called Waldron Assembly of God.  I was fortunate to have as a pastor for most of those years my uncle, Sam Waganer.  People who know him will agree with this statement:  Sam Waganer was one of the most Godly men to ever walk the planet.  There was nothing phony about Sam; he believed just exactly like he lived; he not only talked the talk but he walked the walk.  I have on occasion in this blog made light of the conservative upbringing I experienced in that church, but in reality it saved me a lot of grief.  I'm thankful for that.
  • Me and the two rats.
  • My country.  I make it a point not to discuss politics, either in this blog or on Facebook.  Fortunately, we live in a country where people don't have to agree, where the discourse often leads to solutions.  I'm thankful for people in leadership positions who are statesmen, not ideologues.  I'm thankful that people have regularly sacrificed their lives to keep us free.
Thanksgiving comes first.