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Across The Fence: A day For thanks
November 27, 2013 M. Timothy Nolting   

Read more by M. Timothy Nolting

Vintage Thanksgiving greeting card

This Thursday, November the 28th, will be another of many Thanksgiving Days for me and my family. Deb and I plan to gather with her mother and other family at the ranch near Rushville. It will be a day of celebration and a day of memories. There will be laughter, and there will be tears of remembering for those who are no longer with us. It will be a day that we will remember our blessings and be thankful for them as new memories are made and untold blessings continue.

I will always remember the Thanksgivings of my childhood. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all gathered to celebrate. The primary feature of the day was a houseful of family and an overloaded table. There was always a turkey and a ham, mashed potatoes, dressing, gravy, candied yams, creamed corn, cranberry sauce, a green bean casserole, some kind of jell-o something-or-other, and hot, straight from the oven, homemade rolls.
Cut glass serving dishes held black olives, green olives, sweet pickles and dill, grape jelly, strawberry jam and orange marmalade. And on the kitchen counter, covered with bright white dishtowels, were pies of pumpkin, mince and pecan waiting to be served with fresh whipped cream and, for those not at ‘the kids table,’ strong, hot coffee.

Company began arriving around 11:00 because the feast was to be served at noon. But even though the turkey was in the oven at 4 a.m., it seems it was always still not quite ready until nearly 1:30. Throughout the morning the smell of roasting turkey filled every room in the house and its mouth-watering aroma convinced your stomach that you were starving to death. Sounds from the kitchen, the rattle and clang of pots and pans, the whir of the mixer, the whisper of wooden spoons on Pyrex mixing bowls and the click and thud of the refrigerator door opening and closing, punctuated the scurry and flurry of mealtime preparations. Dad kept the old potbellied stove stoked with chunks of hand-cut hedge wood and new arrivals would edge close to the fire to take off the chill.

Conversation filled every corner of the kitchen, living room and mud room, as mini-gatherings of guests discussed weather, crops, livestock, school, good health and troubling illnesses. Kids were everywhere, from toddlers to teens with little ones on grandparent’s laps and giggling girls in upstairs bedrooms whispered solemn secrets about new boyfriends and tragic breakups. And those with peach-fuzz faces and changing voices wondered if we would get to sit at the adult’s table this year.

At long last the turkey was pulled from the oven, hot butter-topped rolls were dumped in a basket, covered with a clean dishtowel and placed on the table and Mom would appear at the kitchen door, drying her hands on the dishtowel she had draped over her shoulder and call, “Dinner’s ready!”

Everyone rose to their feet, as if to offer a standing ovation for the long awaited announcement, then gathered as closely to the main table as possible. Heads bowed and hands folded as Dad began to pray. There were no impromptu words of divinely inspired praise, no extra-special word of thanks, just the simple words of gratitude that he spoke at every meal, every other day of the year:

“The eyes of all wait upon thee, oh Lord, and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand and satisfieth the desire of every living thing. Amen.”

Adults sat at the big kitchen table, a claw-foot, pedestal oak table that had belonged to Dad’s mother. Overflow gathered around a table brought home from the church basement, setup in the living room and surrounded with folding metal chairs. The younger ‘in-betweens’ crowded around various card tables appropriately dubbed ‘the kids’ table.’

These days, our grandparents are gone. Deb’s dad and my mother have passed away in recent years and no longer stand beside us. Aunts, uncles and cousins are scattered from coast to coast, and brothers and sisters live several states away. In my family there are more than seventy of us when spouses and children, grandkids and great-grandkids are counted. We won’t all be at the same place this Thanksgiving, but we’ll all be together. For no matter where we are, we will all bow our heads, fold our hands and give thanks to God for all our countless blessings of the past year.

This Thanksgiving is the ‘official’ 224th that will be celebrated by this great nation that was founded and painstakingly built upon the principles of Christian faith. It was President George Washington who, in 1789, declared the last Thursday of November to be a National Day of Thanksgiving. Then on October 3rd, 1863, in the midst of the terrible Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official National Holiday as he delivered the following proclamation:

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

As I read Lincoln’s words, I am struck by the relevance of these words for us even today, in the year of our Lord 2013. Today we have a nation divided, not by civil war, but by opposing political views and deep fundamental differences where, far too often, negotiation and compromise are stubbornly rejected. Still, today we are a nation at war, in armed conflict with other nations, where resources must be diverted, lives are forfeit and widows and orphans mourn for spouses and parents who will not return from distant battlefields. But we also continue to be a nation blessed by abundant resources and countless individuals whose compassion for others reaches across all boundaries and embraces all people around the globe. May we use those blessings for the benefit of all and may we also remember from whom those blessings flow. And perhaps, on this Thanksgiving Day we should most especially take heed of the heartfelt words of President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as he closed his Thanksgiving proclamation “… and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

May your cornucopia be filled to overflowing, may your blessings be abundant and may each day be a day of thanksgiving.¬¬
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