Life has a way, at times, of getting in the way of living. As many of you know, I have a job that never closes. Working at a youth center for the Missouri Division of Youth Services, I am responsible for the lives of struggling teenage boys. We send some of them home for holidays while others either can’t go because of family problems or aren’t allowed to because of concerns that they might not come back. If boys are there, staff has to be too.
Since somebody has to be there at all times, that means someone ends up working on holidays. I took off some time during deer season and surrendered to the responsibility of working at the facility on the holiday, as did several other staff, so that other employees could be off for the celebration.
In turn, working on the holiday meant that, while other members of my family were enjoying each other, I was either working or sleeping. I should say, TRYING to sleep.
The four sons who were home were accompanied by three wives and five kids, ages one to six. We’re talking about happy, healthy, rambunctious kids here. My grandchildren are full of life, laughing and playing…and making noise in the process. Plenty of noise.
Yesterday, as I was trying to grab a few winks it occurred to me that the very young-uns who were keeping me from getting the sleep I needed were among the things I was most thankful for.
That got me to thinking about the many things in my life that I cherish.
Despite the hours and the stress, I’m grateful for my job. In my work I can have a positive influence on the lives of children.
I’m gratified to live in a country where every man, woman, and child has a chance to succeed. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness really mean something here. I’m still pursuing.
Speaking of pursuing, I love being able to spend time in the outdoors. When I go hunting it is being outdoors that brings me joy. Long hours sitting in the deer stand don’t have to end with taking home game; as long as I am able to observe nature I consider it a successful hunt.
Much of my extended family was here for Thanksgiving. My two remaining uncles and one aunt were here, along with my sisters and several cousins and second and third cousins. We shared stories of growing up as part of each other’s lives. I’m so grateful for them all.
I’m thankful for having another year with my mother and overjoyed that her mind is still so sharp. I love every day I’m able to give her a hug and “goodbye sugars”. We talk about the past, hers before I came along as well as our lives together. At 91 she has lived through almost a century of American history, from the depression through World War II and into the new millennium. Time with her is a treasure trove of shared knowledge I never want to give up.
I’m lucky for my sons – the Matthews boys. Seeing the men they have become, hard working, responsible adults, willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice if a member of the family needs help. A few years back one of my relatives bought a nice house that really needed to be reroofed, but due to stretched finances, it was going to have to wait. Instead, several of my sons traveled to his house and joined members of his church to help him reroof his house…for fun.
They make me proud.
I’m thankful for my daughters-in-law, the five young ladies who saw fit to hitch their lives to my sons’. Strong, hard-working, intelligent men are not always the easiest people to live with, yet these strong, hard-working, intelligent ladies chose to join them, and us. They have added so much to our family that I love them all and am SO pleased that they are the Matthews girls.
Along with my daughters-in-law came my grandchildren. Eight little human beings who love me because I’m Pa. Tiny voices from across the room saying, “Hey Pa!” and waving at me with so much enthusiasm for no other reason than that they love me. Me! Little hands that hold mine while we walk around the farm or go out to gather eggs. Children’s laughter as Pa spreads his swing-pushing talents between three of them while supervising others climbing to zip down the sliding board. And I can’t forget those strong little arms that wrap around my neck or reach up for me to pick them up for a hug or to carry them.
I can’t forget when I awoke and stepped into the hall, only to be almost bowled over by the mini-hulk, my three-year-old grandson, John, as he sped down the hall to wrap his little arms around me.
My heart swelled when five-year-old Emma stopped as she headed out of the living room, turned, and said, “Hey, Pa!” She held up her hand with thumb, forefinger, and pinky extended. “In sign language that means, ‘I love you, Pa!’”
I love you too, Emma.
The last night of the holiday visit everybody was gone except J.B. and wife Candi along with their daughters Addy and Ally.
J.B., Patrick, and I went out into the cold to start a fire in the fire-pit as Annie and Candi got the girls warmly dressed while they also prepared stuff for roasting. When the flames died down to the perfect level, Grannie Annie loaded roasting forks with hotdogs. The proper amount of cooking followed before the ‘dogs found a home between buns, snuggled in ketchup, mustard, and relish.
Addy pointed out, “I don’t want mustard or pickles on mine. Can I get it without a hotdog?”
Annie smiled and assembled a ketchup sandwich.
After the hotdogs, Grannie broke out the ingredients for s’mores. Those delightful combinations of graham crackers, milk chocolate, and marshmallows make my mouth water just to think about them. As a diabetic, that’s all I can do, unless I help my grandbabies make theirs. I started to make one and Ally said, “I like my s’mores without chocolate or graham crackers.”
Candi supervised her daughter’s marshmallow roasting.
We laughed, joked, teased each other, and talked about the moon overhead as it floated in and out of the clouds.
I moved aside and looked at the little group, some huddled in quilts against the wind and others still gnawing their s’mores. My diminutive canine, Opie, sat on the deck watching for any dropped morsels.
My voice cracked as I observed, “THIS is what I’m thankful for.”
Annie smiled and nodded as she continued to supervise the feast. Annie does that. She stays in the background, making sure everybody has enough to eat; has enough to play with; and is warm or cool enough…including me. She works so hard, constantly, to make sure everyone has what they want and need. She rises early and goes to bed late and works from dark to dark. And what does she want for all that? She wants everyone else to be happy. That’s what gives her joy, what makes her complete.
Of all the many blessings I have in my life, Annie is what I’m most thankful for.
I love you Annie. I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving.
(above) Roasting hotdogs and making s’mores with my family are two of the things I am thankful for.
(below) Mom (center) got to spend some time with her surviving siblings out of thirteen. Betty (left) and Pat (right) were here, as was Sherman (not pictured).
(above and below) Nature is one of the things I am so thankful for. I spend much of my free time getting nature photos, such as these.