A Thanksgiving to Remember

Breakfast isn’t the meal you normal think of first when it comes to considering Thanksgiving Day festivities. But for 42 years, this was my family’s tradition … to gather together for breakfast.

It wasn’t just any ordinary breakfast. To begin with, it was served outside, up on the hillside behind the house. Long tables were set up on the brick porch of the old wooden recreation building my grandfather had laughingly nicknamed “The Outhouse.”  A couple of fire pits were strategically set around the yard, offering a place for groups to chat and warm up in the chilly morning air.

Inside The Outhouse, the fireplace blazed, and next to it sat my grandfather in his chair holding court as he greeted all the guests. His family grew and so did the Thanksgiving Breakfast, some years numbering over 100 friends and family members. Perhaps because he was an only child, my grandfather loved having his family and friends (who he considered to be family) close by, especially on holidays. Thanksgiving Breakfast was no exception. My own father often complained that his dad would continue inviting more guests right up until the very last minute, making it hard to know how many people we were actually cooking for. But that was part of what made it so wonderful is that anyone who wanted to be there could come, invitation or not.

Across the room from my grandfather, my Uncle Ken cooked eggs in a cast iron skillet on the top of a wood burning stove, while one pan of biscuits baked to perfection in it’s old oven.  (The remaining 120+ biscuits cooked down in “The Big House” where my grandparents lived.)

The rest of the family members made treks, up and down the brick steps, back and forth from The Big House to The Outhouse, carrying delicacies like Monkey Bread and large pots of piping hot grits and trays filled with slices of ham or turkey or even sausage.

It was early in the morning that the first guests started arriving. By 7:30 am, the driveway was crowded with cars and the chatter of voices carried all over the hillside. For the next two hours, everyone would huddle together in small groups, mugs of steaming coffee or hot chocolate in one hand and a plate piled high with biscuits, eggs and warm cinnamon rolls in the other. Laughter could be seen and not just heard as every breath hung in the air like tiny puffs of smoke. Hugs were as plentiful as the food.  Every year, Thanksgiving morning was a morning I wished would never end.

Eventually though, the crowds would depart, each friend or family member headed home to prepare for other Thanksgiving meals later in the day. Those of us left would clean up The Outhouse, throw away the trash and put away the food. My brother and cousins would pile plates high with the extra food, then head out to make deliveries to a few elderly shut-ins and other folks my grandfather thought might appreciate being remembered with a plate of food.

Since 1973, this is the way every Thanksgiving I can remember went.  Seeing as I was born in 1972, this is truly the only sort of Thanksgiving I have enjoyed. And a part of me believed it would go on forever.

But my grandfather died this past spring … and after a lot of discussion, it was decided that Thanksgiving Breakfast had reached its natural end.

This morning, I woke up at my mother’s, our Thanksgiving meal over as we had celebrated on Wednesday night. We set about taking care of other chores, mainly beginning to decorate The Big House for Christmas.

Mid-morning, my mother sent me to The Outhouse to look for her missing step-ladder, which we needed to hang up the stockings.  Without thinking, I headed to the back door, opened it up and stepped onto the brick steps leading up to The Outhouse. The morning breeze caressed my face, and without warning I heard the echoes of 42 years worth of thankful hearts gathered on that hillside, which now seemed strangely silent to my ears.

As I neared The Outhouse, I passed by a cold fire pit, but I could nearly smell the smoke wafting in the air. As I opened the door and let myself inside, I heard the sizzling of the hot cast iron skillet. I felt the heat of fireplace. I squeezed past the shoulders of guests to get closer to my grandfather’s chair.

Only no one was there. The fireplace was not roaring with a fire. Nothing was cooking.

Tears began to form in the corners of my eyes, threatening to fall. The back of my throat burned hot.  The weight of the end of something loved and good felt heavier than I expected.

Then, I remembered the step-ladder and why I needed it.

Down in The Big House, I needed to hang seventy stockings.

SEVENTY. (It’s not a typo.)

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They hang along two walls in the over-sized dining room of The Big House, a band of colorful felt. No two are alike. Each one handmade. The stockings are as unique as the individuals they represent.

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I can’t help but look at that long line of stockings and think to myself, “The only child got the big family of his dreams.”

A marriage that lasted 60 years.Five children. Thirteen grandchildren. Thirty-five great-grandchildren.  It’s not just DNA either, for in that seventy are adopted children, step-children, and foster children.

This is the legacy my grandfather left … not money or possessions or even beloved traditions. But people. He loved big and he always had room for one more at his table, whether it was for coffee or Sunday dinner or Thanksgiving Breakfast.

Today I’m thinking about my family and our traditions … and I’m grateful for my grandfather and his legacy for it reflects something in God’s nature too.

God loves big. In fact, His love is the biggest there is. And He always has room for one more.

Some day in heaven there will be a great banquet. A feast to end all feasts. Thanksgiving Breakfast will pale in comparison!

And I wonder about the table. How wide and how long it will be! Even so, at God’s great table, there is always room for more.

Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. ~Revelation 19:9

Let’s you and me agree to bring another guest to breakfast.

 

 

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Legacy

JoelThompson4HLegacy

4-H Grows a Legacy
Joel Thompson, Lafayette Parish
Louisiana State Citizenship Board Member, 2014-2016

“I am a fourth generation 4-H member. My great-grandmother, grandfather, and mother were all 4-H members who went on to become 4-H agents, 4-H club leaders and life-long 4-H volunteers. Their example taught me what it truly means to pledge my head, heart, hands and health to the betterment of my club, community, country and world. As a result, 4-H has become more to me than just winning blue ribbons or attending summer camp. It is a foundation for my future that connects me to my past. I’m proud to say that 4-H has always been a huge part of my life, and thanks to my family’s 4-H legacy, I’m sure it always will be.”

Yesterday, the above photo of my son Joel and his quote about 4-H was shared on social media by the Louisiana State 4-H Office.  It’s part of a new 4-H marketing campaign in which 4-H members, leaders, volunteers and alumni share the positive character traits and values that being involved 4-H helped to grow in their life.

When Joel was first invited to be a part of this marketing campaign, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to emphasize. After all, 4-H has taught him and his siblings so many skills, far more than just the basics of how to give a demonstration or how to sew on a button. It’s given him opportunities to grow as a leader, to serve others in meaningful ways, to prepare and give speeches, and even how to be a good competitor (especially when you don’t win).

But as we talked, Joel and I both began to realize how 4-H is more to us than just a club. Like me, Joel knew about 4-H long before he ever joined at age nine.  From the time he was a toddler, he heard the stories of how his grandfather, my dad, showed blue-ribbon winning 4-H lambs. He would stand next to me in the kitchen as I told him how I started cooking when I was nine, all because of 4-H …and I heard my grandmother tell me those same tales as she showed me how to cook when I was a child.

For Joel and for me, 4-H is sort of like a part of our genetics. It’s who we are and what we do as a family. Neither of us can imagine life without 4-H.

I am grateful for the heritage my father and my grandmother gave me and I hope my children carry into their futures a 4-H legacy. Yet, as much as I love all things 4-H, there is a far greater legacy I am thankful that my family gave to me and  that I want to give to my children and someday my grandchild. It’s a legacy of Christian faith.

4-H may enhance my life and teach skills that I might not otherwise have learned. It is a source of education and entertainment that I’m so grateful to have. It’s a huge part of my life … but if it ended tomorrow, my life would not end with it.

Jesus, on the other hand, is the creator and author of my life. He formed me and fashioned me. He numbered my days, gave me a purpose, and has already prepared my future (both here on this earth and afterwards in heaven). From the time I was an infant, my father and my mother told me the stories in the Bible, prayed with me and for me, and encouraged me to accept Jesus as my Savior. My grandmother sang me hymns and listened to me recite Bible verses. The biggest legacy of my life is the legacy of Jesus.

The Bible is clear. Salvation cannot be passed down parent to child. It is a decision that each person gets.  However, I can leave behind a heritage that will help guide my children and future grandchildren to the Cross.

Today, I’m thankful for those in my life who walked before me, faithfully following their Savior, showing me the way to Jesus Christ. And I humbly ask that the Lord might allow me to leave behind a legacy for Jesus for the generations who walk after me as well.

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter…things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony … which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.  ~Psalm 78: 2-7

With a Thankful Heart-2