Happy Thanksgiving!

If I had to choose my favorite holiday of the year, it might well be Thanksgiving. It is a wonderful convergence of fun, changing seasons, and anticipation, due to the food-centric family gatherings, the sense that autumn is about to yield to the onset of winter, and Christmas is just around the corner!

In my youthful days, Thanksgiving always meant our family would gather with available grandparents and other relatives to enjoy a family-reunion type of day filled with lots of turkey, homemade dishes, and pumpkin pies. After a brief recovery from stuffing ourselves, my brothers and cousins would usually drift outdoors to play a game of touch football. That was usually followed by watching NFL football on TV during the afternoon. Back then mid-week football on TV was an NFL novelty, as there was not yet any such thing as Thursday Night Football.

Its a Wonderful Life - lobby poster

More often than not, the day would conclude by sitting in front of the TV watching whatever channel was broadcasting the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. For our family, the broadcast of this classic movie seemed to signal the official beginning of the Christmas season. In September, I had the privilege to meet Karolyn Grimes, who played the little girl Zuzu in the movie. At the time the movie was being filmed, she was growing up in sunny, southern California, with no siblings and no personal experience with snow. In the course of filming It’s a Wonderful Life, she had a chance to sample life within a larger family, and snowy weather (even though the snow was fake). Regarding filming of the movie she later commented that, “Being from the land of sunshine, it was a tremendous fascination which gave me a whole different feeling about Christmas and families.” (“Zuzu’s Wonderful Life in the Movies”, Christopher Brunell) As many know, the film highlights the value of family and prompts us to consider what truly is important in our busy lives today.

Zuzu's Wonderful Life in the Movies

Often lost in all of the activity of Thanksgiving Day is the need to actually pause and be thankful for how one has been blessed. Even in years filled with setbacks, worries, and grief, there are things and people in our lives for which we can be grateful. It reminds me of a hymn I recall from my younger years – “Count Your Blessings.” Here are a couple of my favorite stanzas from that hymn:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.


So amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.


On Thanksgiving Day, it’s good to remind myself there is more to be thankful for than just the turkey.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Reflecting on Stories from Grandpa and Dad

Imagine walking into a room with wood floors and walls, and a wood-burning stove providing heat for the room. An elderly man sits on an old sofa, wearing a western style shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots, and smoking a freshly-lit Camel. Behind him is a shotgun set on a large window sill and leaning against the window frame, and in a nearby corner is a hat stand on which is hung his off-white Stetson cowboy hat. The man is my grandfather, and he is watching that week’s installment of Gunsmoke on his black-and-white television set. To me as a 10-year old boy, this had the feel of being in the old west, even though it was really southern Illinois!

Grandpa multi-tasking by talking on the phone while watching TV. Note the shotgun propped up in the window behind the sofa!

One of my slightly-older cousins told me of the time this same Grandpa visited his family in Nevada, and while walking outdoors, the two of them encountered a rattlesnake in their path. Grandpa told my cousin that he would hit the snake’s head with his hat, then my cousin was supposed to quickly step on the snake’s head with his boot heel. After my cousin twice froze when he was supposed to do his part, Grandpa then did the whole job himself – striking the rattler with his hat, then quickly grinding his boot heel on the snake’s head and allowing safe passage along the path.

My grandfather was a cowboy at heart. He was the son of a real-life cowboy, his father having been a cowboy for about 12 years in late 1800’s Oklahoma Territory. During my growing-up years, Grandpa commonly wore a Stetson cowboy hat, western style shirts, jeans, and cowboy boots. He was known to be up late at night when reading Zane Gray novels, and was a regular viewer of TV westerns – especially Gunsmoke and Bonanza (his favorite characters seemed to be Deputy Festus and Hoss Cartwright).

My father was a kid growing up through the Great Depression before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. His stories about basic training, army life, and being shipped overseas for combat were certainly interesting to me and my brothers. He told us of how it felt to be marching through the streets of the just-liberated city of Paris as young French women hailed them as heroes, giving out hugs and kisses to Dad and his comrades. However, things were tougher for him during the Battle of the Bulge, where he witnessed his lieutenant being blown to bits by a German grenade. It was a moment that stayed with him as a painful memory throughout the rest of his life.

Pvt JM
Dad’s army photo, approx. 1943.

My sense of history was greatly influenced early in life by such family stories told by my grandfather and father, as they shared memories of their experiences related to the Old West and life during World War Two. Both of them are now gone, but I am grateful for the personal stories they shared with me and my brothers. Now that I’m older, I have so many more questions I would love to ask them, but, of course, it’s too late now.

A suggestion: During this Father’s Day holiday, take time to ask your father (if possible) for a special memory, a story. And if you have children of your own, make sure they hear it, too!

Wishing all you fathers a Happy Father’s Day!