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Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart

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Carol Bossard

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We’ve had a lot of gray days this month --- quite typical for our region.  But we’ve also had some delightfully sunny, mild days; it would be great if we could preserve some of those.  Gladys Taber** had the same idea: “I wish we could put this late summer sunlight in jars.  If we could only pack it, clamp the bail down on the glass, set the pressure cooker for, say, ten pounds and process jars and jars of bright, fresh, mellow sun!  I can see how it would look with the jars arranged in the fruit cellar beside the chicken and piccalilli and tomato catsup.  And on a dark November day, we would bring up a quart or so of sunshine, open it and smell again the warm, dreamy air of a late-summer day.”  Fun thought!

We recently had a back yard full of downed trees.  It looked rather as though a tornado had gone through.  There were five trees either quite dead or in their last stages of life that threatened to fall on buildings if they were blown down.  So woodcutters came and felled them ----- leaving a ton of logs, branches and twigs to clean up.  I will miss the big white pine especially.  It was a tree full of birds and lovely to sit beneath on a summer day.  The now wide-open back yard is startling, and some of our plants that demand shade will, I think, have to be moved.  The downed and tangled trees created a playground for cats.  They sharpened claws, pounced from one branch to another and sat at the top like kings of the mountain.  I imagine they were sorry to see it cleaned up.

This is fruitcake-baking week after which I’ll stash them away to “ripen” on our cold, inside porch   I’m hearing no cheers from immediate family; they are not enthusiastic about my venture into the land of fruit cakes; they don’t like candied fruit, but too bad!  It is a time-honored tradition.  In Scotland and England (anyone who reads Anne of Green Gables knows about this) wedding cakes were usually fruit cakes, made as soon as the engagement was announced and packed away to mellow.  Mine don’t get to “mellow” very long.  If my family doesn’t appreciate my fruity wonders, I have friends who do.  A cup of tea with a slice of spicy cake bursting with Brazil nuts, pecans, candied cherries, raisins and citron makes a dreary day shine.

Thanksgiving is only a week away.   In fifty-six years, we’ve had celebrations of this holiday in a myriad of different ways ---- with family, with friends and by ourselves.  One of our sons was born a few days after Thanksgiving, and that year, we had to stay in Pennsylvania rather than going home to be with family.   I remember that the day was cloudy, mild and we took a walk to enjoy the central Pennsylvania scenery.   We’ve had many enjoyable years celebrating with extended family in Howard (Steuben County) and in Victor (Ontario County).  One year, snow came, and on Sunday afternoon, we crawled south on Rt. 15 at about 35mph the whole way.  There was one lane plowed and I’m sure the traffic stretched from Buffalo to Washington DC.

I miss those big family gatherings ---- the laughter, the futile attempts to keep grapes in the fruit centerpieces until after dinner, wonderful dishes-to-pass, loud games of Euchre and shared stories and laughter.  There were often as many as twenty-five or thirty of us.  But even with our family of eight, we do quite well.  With two dogs, two teenagers, six adults --- and sometimes a stray guest or two ---- we still have plenty of laughter and lots of stories.   The main point of the celebration is to enjoy each other and to bring to mind all that for which we are so very grateful.  This year may be different as we avoid infection, and yet, we still have reasons for thanks.  We are healthy as are those in our family. We have plenty to do and many ways to communicate.   We may not be sharing dinner as usual, but we are still connected.  Traditions should not be freeze-framed.  Necessary change often brings its own gifts.

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Thanksgiving is surely a good time to share kindness and consideration with others.  While I was working at the Office for the Aging, the staff there decided to do a dinner on Thanksgiving Day for those who had no family.  People had confided that their loneliness was far more intense at Thanksgiving than Christmas.  The dinner was a purely volunteer project, although the county was generous enough to allow use of the kitchen and dining room at work.  Those of us who were traveling to family on that day brought goodies to leave off.  I still remember with pleasure, the warm, happy atmosphere in that dining room as people once more found joy in the holiday.  One of the churches in the S-VE area was doing something similar, but of course, not this year.

Currently getting ready for snow and cold is a priority.  I’ve had to make two spots for feeding the cats, out of sight of each other.  We’ve acquired a truly feral cat; I believe it was injured when it decided to camp in our former feeding area.  It has an unpleasant yowl, and our long-time outside cats are afraid of it; we’ve dubbed it “Nasty Cat”.  Thus, we have two feline dining spots.  There are also lined baskets tucked beneath a table by the back door, sheltered from the winds and snows for fairly comfortable sleeping.  The woodpeckers are glad that the feeders are once more stocked with suet now that our intrusive bears seem to have gone to wherever they go for the winter.   The scarves and mittens have been retrieved from their storage tubs and the boots located.  The snow shovel is at hand.   Inside the wood stove is ready to add comforting warmth when the winds blow cold.

November is always a month of nostalgia for me.  It is not only because of Thanksgiving but also, I think, the effect a waning year has.  I find myself actually wanting to polish the furniture, wash the cut glass and bring out the linens I happily put away last spring.  We “nesters” like change of seasons.  We can make things fresh and new four or five times a year and the possibilities make up for the same old-same old that annoys most of us about keeping house.  One of the things I try to do is to make the house fragrant.  Of course baking bread or cookies is the best way to do that.  But in lieu of baking, I try to have candles, reed diffusers and fresh herbal scents instead of industrial cleaning smells. I’ve put together an herbal/vinegar solution for wiping off of counters that includes basil, sage, rosemary and (if I recall correctly) tansy.   Helen Keller*** said: “Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across a thousand miles and all the years we have lived.”  So the lavender furniture polish, the cinnamon candles and linseed oil all take me right back home to where my mother was baking molasses cookies and painting country tin.  And when we put a turkey in the oven and make stuffing, I’ll be able to imagine being at one of those wonderful family gatherings that were such a great part of our lives.

As we consider and express our gratitude this Thanksgiving, it might also be a good time to  dispense with uncharitable and/or arrogant thoughts about others.  I will share an old poem…….  “Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase), awoke one night from a deep dream of peace, and saw, within the moonlight of the room, making it rich and like a lily in bloom, an angel writing in a book of gold ----Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold, and to the presence in the room he said: ‘What writest thou?’ The vision rais’d his head, and with a look of all sweet accord, answer’d: ’The names of those who love the Lord.’  ‘And is mine one?’ said Abou.  ‘Nay, not so,’ replied the angel.  About spoke more low but clearly still and said: ‘I pray thee then, write me as one that loves his fellow men.’  The angel wrote and vanish’d.  The next night  it came again with a great wakening light, and show’d the names whom love of God had bless’d, and lo!  Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.”**** Happy Thanksgiving!

Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.

*”Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart” praise song with lyrics by Don Moen.

**Gladys Tabor --- American writer who wrote for “Family Circle” magazine and authored 59 books;  is most recognized for her “Stillmeadow” books.  1899 -

***Helen Keller--- American author, lecturer and political activist.  Is the first blind and deaf person to achieve a BA.  1880-1968.

****”Abou Ben Adam” by Leigh Hunt ---- British critic, essayist, poet and writer.  Actual name is James Henry Leigh Hunt.  1784-1859.  (And I thought for years that Leigh Hunt was a woman!!)

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