Truth be told, I am a Norman-Rockwell kind of gal when it comes to Thanksgiving Day. His paintings, gracing many a cover for The Saturday Evening Post, presented pure Americana: turkey on a platter, family gathered at the table. Add a little Currier and Ives going over the river and through the woods and a beautifully-illustrated poem or two from an Ideals magazine – well, my traditional vision of Thursday’s holiday is complete.
So strong are those long-held images that they seem to have pushed out most actual Thanksgiving memories from my years on River Road. I know we celebrated the fourth Thursday of each November: that was the day for my mother’s scrumptious pumpkin pie. Rather than turkey, I am almost sure we ate a chicken from our own flock, one stuffed with my all-time favorite dressing made from Grandma’s recipe.
But I have no specific Thanksgiving Day recollections until later when we celebrated on Ford Road. It was then that we crowded into the den around a table set with Mother’s good china and her silverware from the velvet-lined box.
Eventually I came home from college for the annual get-together and spent Thanksgiving in Germany in 1969. There were the years our table grew ever more crowded with in-laws and grandchildren. The count, however, began to dwindle as the youngsters headed out to live their lives in distant parts of the country – and then our parents were no longer with us to anchor the festivities.
In recent years I have begun to wonder about Thanksgiving and all that it means – and perhaps what it should mean. As every holiday in this country continues to be swallowed up by commercialization, in some ways Thanksgiving has become overshadowed, shoehorned as it is between Halloween and Christmas.
Because there is no place like home for the holidays, the roads and skies fill with travelers crisscrossing the country, arriving in time for the elaborate meal and perhaps an afternoon of football. Adding to it all are the turkey trots to run, homeless shelters needing volunteers, community dinners to attend. With so many moving parts, sometimes the only nod to actual thanks happens briefly around the table right before the turkey carving begins.
Last week as my mind mused along about the meaning of Thanksgiving, I heard the sad news of the passing of Tom Rogers, longtime Graham educator. Little did I know in 1954 when Mr. Rogers – as we knew him then – walked into my first-grade classroom and taught us to sing “Come with Me to the Candy Shop,” that he would re-enter my high school life as librarian and advisor to the National Honor Society, yearbook staff, and folk dance club. Even later we became fellow teachers at GHS.
Through the years I came to know this teacher-turned-colleague-turned-dear-friend as a true Renaissance man: a decorated WWII veteran who worked summers as a trail crew foreman and mountain climber out in the Northwest, who loved music and books and ideas – and even built his own house. His wonderful wife Carolyn was special, too, allowing me as a fourth-grader to help in her first-grade classroom during the noon recess. And, oh, the heavenly music she produces any time her fingers touch the keys of an organ.
I am thankful that teachers like Tom and Carolyn, who influenced my childhood so, became lovely, lifelong friends. And I feel such gratitude for the scores of other teachers who were and have been near and dear to my heart for so many years.
As those years rolled along, I myself became the teacher, who in the autumn of her life, can scarcely recall the number of former students she now gratefully counts as friends. What a great experience it is to see those kids living grown-up lives of significance and contribution.
Even if, however, I never again interacted with many of the teenagers who spent time with me in my classroom, it was a true blessing to have been their teacher. I began teaching because I loved school but ended my career loving my students and all that I had learned from them.
I also realize how profound my acquaintanceships and friendships with people in other countries have been. So many people of nationalities different from my own opened their homes and hearts to me. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from them how insignificant our differences really are when compared to the enormity of our similarities.
But my deepest feelings of thankfulness stem from the fact that I was born to the best parents ever, who led our little troop through life and even now in their absence continue to guide us and our resulting band of grands-and-greats. I reserve my most special gratitude for my family.
Recently I found this meditation by William Arthur Ward: Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.
It is now clear to me. Yes, I will celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday with the 14 family members planning to crowd into my little house. We will eat turkey dressing and pumpkin pie from the old recipes and cheer on our turkey trot runners. But my real thanksgiving will be all the other days of the year as I count the many blessings that have been extended to me throughout my lifetime.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.