By Jill Davis
My mother loved family. The Thanksgiving when I was 10, she eased into her element, playing hostess to 17 relatives. My father took a backseat so she could shine. She exuded confidence as she moved in and out of the noisy throng. Our family room was like a painting, decorated by the colorful personalities of all who gathered there.
Dinner was scheduled for 4:00 p.m., but minutes before Mother appeared with the whites of her eyes bugging out. Something was wrong. She summoned everyone’s attention. “I owe you an apology. I forgot to turn on the oven. The turkey isn’t even cooked yet.”
Everyone remained silent until my grandmother’s stomach growled like a hungry bear. My uncle joked, “Mom is mighty hungry, Sis. Better turn that oven on or you’ll see claws.”
Mother’s family could be tough on people, speaking their minds without mincing words. But everybody just laughed and hollered, “Keep the pretzels and chips coming!”
Being an adopted child, navigating the family tree proved difficult for me. After Mother’s announcement, I decided to maneuver my way onto the couch beside Cousin Bob.
“You like basketball?” he asked.
“Pretty good shooter?”
“Well, the best you can do is try.”
Cousin Bob started telling silly jokes to make me laugh. As he talked, I was amazed by his bulk. I recalled how his big feet tripped on the train of his daughter’s wedding dress the year before. Uncle Ralphie vowed he’d never let him forget it. As we sat there together, he pulled me close, draping his arm across my shoulders like a warm sweater.
Cousin Bob made a point of telling me that people get sidetracked in the kitchen. “Irma Lee made an honest mistake. Besides,” he said, hugging me. “This gives me more time to love you!”
“You wanna love me?”
“More than anything. More than I want to hear basketball scores.”
Like my mother, Jesus obviously enjoyed family gatherings. His first miracle was at a wedding (John 2:1-11). The bride’s father must have been mortified the way my mother was that Thanksgiving. After the man discovered he’d run out of wine, what would he tell his guests? Quick thinking by Mary, Jesus’ mother, put Jesus in a dilemma. Should he turn water to wine? Most likely he felt compassion on the thirsty crowd and embarrassed host. Perhaps that’s why he performed his first miracle in the company of family and friends.
Of course I didn’t perform any miracles for my mother that Thanksgiving—but it bordered on miraculous to find a family wanting to love me.
When I spotted my grandmother sitting alone in a corner, I excused myself from Cousin Bob. She suffered from depression and often lashed out at family. She’d used her sharp tongue on me before. As I approached her, she busied herself with knitting.
“What’re you making?” I asked.
“A blanket for your cousin Cheryl. I’ve made blankets for all the kids.”
Frowning, I observed, “You didn’t make me one.”
“Well, you were grown when you arrived. You didn’t need a baby blanket.”
“Oh.” It was all I could think to say. After watching her stitching a while, I told her, “I guess I forgive you then.”
My grandmother’s knitting needles stopped clicking. “Would you like a special blanket?”
“Sure! Purple’s my favorite color. Guess you’re not an old meanie after all.”
“I don’t intend to be cross. Sometimes it’s no fun getting old.”
“I forgive you,” I reiterated. “Someday I’ll be old too.”
Even at my young age, I somehow realized my grandmother struggled with faith. I decided to encourage her. Down the road she remained cross, but she kept her word, knitting me a stunning afghan.
After finishing my conversation with my grandmother, I noticed that my cousins and my sister had gone outside to play kickball. Throwing on my jacket, I raced to join them.
“This game isn’t for babies!” Buzz chided. He was only two years older, but much bigger.
“Let her play,” John stepped into the fray. He was five years my senior and very protective.
Buzz backed down but threw his pitch hard, making it impossible to return. I let a few more balls roll by then lost interest. As I headed indoors, John stopped me.
“You’re turning into a real beauty. You’re going to be even prettier than your sister.”
Being prettier than Julie didn’t seem possible, yet Cousin John told me it could happen. My head swelled bigger than a pumpkin. I returned indoors full of warm fuzzies.
Like my cousin, Jesus exhibited his tender side toward women wherever people gathered. He praised Mary’s behavior when she sat at his feet and hung on his every word (Luke 10:38-42). Later she anointed Jesus with fragrant oil. He praised her for that (John 12:1-8). Obviously Jesus held a soft spot for women, treating them with kindness—even those who had led sinful lives. This was probably one of the first breakthroughs for women in a society dominated by men. Likewise, Cousin John’s remarks were a lot like words Jesus might have spoken to me had he joined our gathering.
Once the turkey was ready, Mother suggested her brood join hands for the blessing. A Perry Como recording began playing “Bless This House.” Como almost made it through the second stanza before Aunt Bess made a swooning noise and had to be escorted to the back bedroom. Mother shot me a look that meant, “Don’t say a word!” So I dutifully listened to the remainder of the song then snuck off to see Aunt Bess.
Uncle Ted held his wife’s hand while she stretched atop the coats that had been piled on the bed. Trying to help, he’d lowered the volume of his booming voice. When he spied me, he motioned me in the room. “What’s wrong, Auntie Bess?”
“It’s her brother,” Uncle Ted told me. “He died a few years ago, and she misses him.”
“I had a dog that died once,” I replied. Auntie Bess allowed a smile to form on her lips as she stared at the ceiling.
“I’ll be OK,” she said. “Being around people I love makes me cry.”
“Love means a lot to someone like me who’s adopted. I guess my family loves me no matter what. Everybody even loves Mother and she forgot the oven!”
“You’ve grasped the meaning of family, my dear. We’ll all put up with your bad behavior as much as your good.”
“Yeah. Everybody loves you too,” I said. “Even though you interrupted the blessing.”
Uncle Ted tried not to laugh. “You’re one of us, kid. Keep spouting what’s on your mind.”
I took my place at the children’s table and surveyed the table of grownups, smiling. I was thankful to be loved. My parents always assured me that God loves me unconditionally. But my extended family actually showed me what loving meant that Thanksgiving. Things definitely work for good in the lives of those who love the Lord. Everybody got their pretzels and chips, and I chewed the fat with family!
Jill Davis is a freelance writer in Eugene, Oregon.
Who’s at Your Thanksgiving Dinner?
Whether you’re dining with family, friends, strangers, or a mixture, they represent a wide variety of situations. By developing an awareness and sensitivity toward people, God can lead you in the best ways to love them. Start by observing those around the table. How many of these traits do you see represented?
• want space—literal or metaphorical
• have had the best year of their lives
• want to have a conversation
• need to be listened to
• are narcissistic
• neglect their needs in order to give to others
• are hiding
• didn’t think they would survive this year
• don’t know if they’ll survive until next year
• love being surrounded by people
• fear being alone
• don’t feel like they belong anywhere
• have been consistently let down by others
• are depended upon by others
• are not sure how they’ll pay for Christmas gifts—or are facing other money woes
• have had a lot of success at work this year
• are grieving
• are looking for meaningful relationships
• have their marriage and family falling apart
• have high achieving kids
• work without being noticed
Who else do you see when you sit back and watch?