A Baby Boomer, I grew up watching “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It to Beaver.” Children might squabble, but parents were always wise, compassionate, and understanding, although stern when needs be. Through the process of osmosis, those idealistic families filtered through the television screen into the depths of my psyche. They were the standard by which I judged my own family.
Boy! Did they fall short!
It wasn’t that I had a bad family or abusive parents. But we were, even by the standards of our blue collar neighborhood, poor. Also, there were a lot of us…six kids, two parents, and at one point, a grandmother. My younger brother was disabled. And there was a gap of eight years between me and my next oldest sibling. By the time I was nine years old, my father had lost his job due to heart disease and then he was stricken with mental illness. My mother ran a day care service from our home to make ends meet. No. we were not a 1950s television family by a long shot.
But several times a year, we came together and looked just a little like a Norman Rockwell painting. Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. By the time I was in my teens, there might be 20 people or more crowded around the kitchen table for a feast of turkey, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, succotash, cranberry sauce, ambrosia salad, black and green olives, celery and carrot sticks, baked beans, and apple and pumpkin pies. For one day, we talked, and laughed, and ate. Boy, did we eat!
After my father passed away, Christmas Day moved to my middle sister’s house. All of us, save for my eldest sister and her family, who lived too far away, gathered for a feast and an afternoon listening to Christmas music, drowsing in front of the glowing Franklin stove with a cat on one’s lap, while taking turns going out for a sleigh ride with my brother-in-law.
Even after I moved away, I always made it back “home” for Christmas. Even after my mother and disabled brother moved in next door to me, we always made it back home for Christmas…until my mother became too frail to travel in winter.
Tradition was etched deep into my soul and I clung to it with all my might. Perhaps it was because I had no husband or children of my own, but that elusive, illusive picture of family became my idol.
Then my eldest brother passed away. Then my mother. Then my next eldest brother. Then my sister and her husband became snowbirds and no longer hosted Christmas. My brother and I tried celebrating by traveling to our older sister’s home (she was by now, a widow), but a Christmas dinner of day-old Subway sandwiches, just didn’t cut it. Nor did celebrating Christmas on any other day but Christmas. And rather than an entire day together with extended family, this was eat while scattered throughout the house, exchange presents, and leave in just under two hours, all the while evidence of strained relationships rippled just beneath the surface. It definitely was not a Norman Rockwell painting. And then, as dementia took hold, our sister was unable to host even an abbreviated celebration.
So my brother and I were cast adrift, as it were, for the holidays. Easter, we usually found a restaurant…but not in this year of COVID. Thanksgiving, Christmas, I prepare a meal for the two of us. Me, who has words pent up behind the dam of isolation and him, who because of his disability, can only communicate only in a limited fashion.
It breaks my traditionalist heart.
But then I read, “ Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him.” (Psalm 45:10-11)
Traditionalist me wants a cozy, firelit home, groaning table filled with a dozen varieties of delectables, a cat or dog or niece or nephew (or–gasp! even a child or grandchild of my own) on my lap. Siblings, or perhaps a husband, with whom I can share memories, tell the family stories or even solve the problems of the world.
But I don’t have that. And perhaps this year, because of COVID, you don’t have that either. Perhaps it is just you and your young children, or you and your spouse, or just you. If so, like me, you have a choice to make. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have a choice.
See, no matter the circumstances, no matter if your Thanksgiving dinner this year is a frozen meal popped in the microwave or a scaled back meal you prepare for just a few, you are not alone at your Thanksgiving table. The God who created the universe is omnipresent; or in the words of the ancient hymn, “wheresoever man can go, Thou God art present there.” And then, Jesus promised that the Comforter would be with you. And Jesus Himself said He would be wherever two or more were gathered in His name.And the Apostle Paul says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. (Yes, I know there is scholarly debate as to whether these witnesses are angels or those who have gone before us or a mixed crowd) But you are most definitely not alone.
As for me, on Wednesday, I will bake a pumpkin pie and pick up our deli meal from the supermarket. I’ll reheat it on Thursday and my little brother and I will hold hands, say grace, and enjoy our turkey and stuffing. And maybe, just maybe, we will garner a sense of those who cannot be with us and be content in the knowledge that they are all safe in God’s hands.