Growing up, we did not go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. Instead, we flew to Memphis, Tennessee, where my maternal grandmother lived. It was fun, but without the horse and snow. I would marvel watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, especially when a color TV finally found a way into her home.
One Thanksgiving at her house, I graduated to the “adult” table. She spread newspaper under my chair in case I spilled anything. Of course, the following Thanksgiving I demoted myself back to the “kid’s” table because they were more fun, and because we sat in the kitchen, I wasn’t forced to put newspapers under my chair.
Years later, my wife, Beth, and I would have Thanksgiving with her grandmother. After the meal, we would hug everyone and drive across the state to my parents’ house for “Second” Thanksgiving. When my mother died seven years ago, it occurred to me, after almost 60 years, I had no place to be on Thanksgiving Day. What do we do when there is no one to “go over the river and through the woods” to see?
Since neither of us like turkey and both of us needed exercise, a new Turkey Day tradition began. We walk in the MUST Ministries’ Gobble Jog. It’s healthier. It’s fun. It helps others. No one has to go shopping. Oh, and neither Beth, nor I, have to cook all day. After we walk and nap, we have a simple meal with whoever shows up. Last year was a shrimp boil.
Every year is different when it comes to Thanksgiving – always has been and probably always will be. Even if the menu doesn’t change for some families, the location and the guest list do. Children become parents. Parents become grandparents. New faces and empty chairs are a sign Thanksgiving has come again.
This year, I am guessing there will be empty chairs around many Thanksgiving tables. Whether your loved one has passed away or cannot come, it is still a time to be thankful. Missing someone you love is always a good thing. So, join me in thanksgiving. You don’t have to traverse rivers or negotiate woods. You don’t have to eat turkey. You don’t even have to gather. Just take a deep breath, and be thankful. It works for me; I hope it works for you.
By James Gwin, pastor of Acworth United Methodist Church.