Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving thanks

I wish all of my readers a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Everyone uses that phrase a lot this time of year, and I recently began wondering how much we think about the feelings and emotions behind the words.

There are, of course (and unfortunately) many folks nowadays who feel they have little to give thanks for. Many individuals and families have been hurt by the downturn in the economy. Others worry about their husbands, daddies, sons, even wives, sisters, and daughters etc. who are serving in danger overseas. For so many of these folks, gorging on turkey and sweet potatoes is the last thing on their minds. They just want to be able to keep their home and see their loved ones safe and sound again.

It can be tough. We go through highs and lows, happiness, sadness, and anxiety. For me, this is the first holiday season since my mom passed on in February. My beautiful and loving wife Karen is just starting to decorate our home for Christmas. Mom just loved seeing all the decorations each year - especially that daggone 14-ft Christmas tree in the living room that takes two weeks to put up and decorate with the 1600 ornaments. I honestly think that she kept Dad from taking her down to Florida each winter until late December just so she could hang around to see the tree in all its glory. Mom is one of the primary reasons we put it up each year, and now my eyes are beginning to well up just thinking about that.

That's all changed, of course. A couple weeks ago, I even allowed my emotions about it slip a bit. Karen asked about the details of putting up the decorations this year, and without even thinking I just responded "I really don't give a sh--." I hardly remember saying that, as if my mouth had a mind of it's own. But I immediately realized what I said, and I saw how my unthinking foolishness hurt her - I saw it in her eyes. Of course I cared. Of course it matters. And of course I want to see the decorations and the tree. I let the fact that since mom won't see it this year get ahead of what I truly want. I immediately told Karen that I didn't mean it, and to her credit she knew what I really meant. She understands how important it was to us for mom to see the decorations each year.

So we're doing it, just like we will every year until we're unable to. It's a lot of work putting up that blessed tree, and I'm sure there will come a day when physically we just can't do it anymore. I always joke to Karen that one day I'll just shrink wrap it, put it up in the back yard after the holidays, then just bring it in each year after Thanksgiving... maybe I'm not joking after all...

Things certainly have changed now, due to the loss of my mom. Since Karen and I have been together nearly 10 years, we've gone to my parents' for Thanksgiving. Then we spend Christmas at her parents' in upstate New York. But Dad understandably went to Florida a couple weeks ago - why be in an empty house for much of the holidays here? - where he can spend them with friends down there. I don't blame him, and I'd do the same if I were him. But it means that this year, for the first time, Karen and I will be alone for Thanksgiving. Just the two of us. Her daughter Ashley is spending the day with her grandparents in New York. Karen and I are still going all out, though - I'm getting up early tomorrow to cook the turkey (Dad's recipe), the sweet potatoes (Mom's recipe) and all the trimmings. We're doing it for each other. We'll be surrounded by a half-decorated house, with space made for that wretched big tree that's about to go up. But we'll make good headway over the long weekend.

Yes, times are challenging. My recent thoughts pale in comparison, of course, to the difficulties that many are going through. Many are dreading the possibility of losing their homes, or how to feed their families. How to find a job. Then there are others who have it good, maybe even better in this environment. Some folks have so much money and resources that temporary downturns hardly affect them at all. For them maybe there'll be one less Rolex under the tree. Or maybe not. Lucky them, I guess.

It sounds overly simple, but these are just those times when we need to be there for each other. Each other is all we have, after all. Politicians won't bail us out, and new legislation is hardly ever designed to make all of our lives peachy. Those of us who have a little extra this season might be able to reach down and give a little more. And many gifts cost nothing - tell your kids you're proud of them, your spouse you love him/her, or that the turkey this year was better than ever.

It'll just be Karen and I tomorrow, but that's okay. What surrounds me is the love of family and friends. The comments I heard this past weekend in Gettysburg about my books - the father who pointed out how much his 6 year-old son just loved going around the battlefield looking for the rock carvings we have in the Gettysburg Guide. My friends who help me with my work, and even those who criticize - I learn a great deal from what they have to say. All of this and more fills my head and my heart this time of year.

It's going to be a full house tomorrow indeed. Standing room only, in fact. I think I'll enjoy the crowd.


  1. It was very difficult for us to celebrate the Holidays many years ago (27) when my father died. It took time but it gradually became easier and new traditions were eventually begun.
    I also understand your outburst - been there, done that. Again, time heals all wounds.
    Have a fine Christmas Season. I am sure you will.

  2. I remember our first Christmas after dad died. It was hard, but over time it does get better. I did take over one of dads traditions though, now our house looks like a Chevy Chase Christmas house. I hope you guys have a Happy Thanksgiving.

    Tim C

  3. Patty (Newport News VA)November 26, 2009 at 1:30 AM

    Thanksgiving Blessings to you and your family. I know how hard it is to celebrate when the ones we love have passed on. I just wanted you to know that the 6 year old isn't the only one who delights in your book. It has brought out the child in me too, and I went right out to Devil's Den and found P.Noel. I can;t wait for my next trip up there so I can explore some more. I plan on starting with all the houses that were hospitals. With out your book I would never be able to find them so thank you so much!

  4. Thank you all, and I wish each of you the best Thanksgiving. Ken - I know what you mean. I can see that we are beginning to start traditions of our own here, and I'm doing those things - exactly, in many cases, because it reminds me of times past - that my parents did on Thanksgiving Day.
    Tim - you'll have to let me know next month when you can come see the house - it'll be somewhat decorated on the outside, but the inside puts the Griswolds to shame!
    Thank you, Patty - that means so much. I love it when folks tell me how they use the book on the field, in the town, and in the surrounding area. We've had rangers and LBGs tell us things like "Geez, that's all I see are people going around using your book!" Believe me, I smile a mile wide every time.
    God bless everyone and have a safe and happy day with the ones you love.
    Now, I gotta get back to turkey basting... :)