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!

Making Summertime Memories That Last Longer Than the Heat

My knowledge of how my parents and grandparents may have once enjoyed their summers is rather limited. Judging by the juvenile literature published in the early-to-mid 20th Century, that generation’s summer activities included trips to the seashore, summer jobs on a farm, time spent at a youth camp or a dude ranch, and adventures around their home town. For my parents, it seems their summers were filled with picnics, tending vegetable gardens, fishing, summer jobs, and enjoying fresh fruit. They seemed to favor a lot of time spent outdoors, if for no other reason than the lack of air conditioning. However our parents and grandparents managed to spend their summers, they tended to recall those days with the same sentiments expressed by Nat King Cole’s song: “Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer…”

Patriots Point
Even the rain did not dampen spirits on a visit to the World War Two aircraft carrier Yorktown, in Charleston, SC.

In my own childhood, summertime was defined by the school calendar as the period of several weeks between the last day of school in late Spring and the first day of school in late August. Summertime for me included a mix of chores and fun, but mostly fun, and best of all, no school or homework for months. It was an extended time of self-directed play, explorations of our neighborhood and town via bicycle, watching TV, playing board games, and plenty of backyard baseball. A regular highlight for my brothers and I was tuning in nightly to hear Jack Buck and Mike Shannon call Cardinals baseball games on the radio. By the time I was in high school, part-time jobs were also a regular part of my summer experience.

As a father, I enjoyed watching my own children spend their childhood summers in self-directed play and participation in outdoor activities. We also visited national parks, historic sites like Colonial Williamsburg, Silver Dollar City, Opryland, and more. In addition, every summer included long family trips to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. My wife and I wanted our kids’ memories of summertime to echo the lyrics in the Diamond Rio song, Sweet Summer: “Those days were never too long / And never too hot / Even though I was out of school / I was learnin’ a lot.”

My kids enjoying a stop at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN (left); Me and my younger son in in front of the 15-foot statue of Superman in Metropolis, IL, “Hometown of Superman” (right).

In my memory, signals of the end of summer always arrived too soon: the county fair, and back-to-school sales in the local stores. I expect summer will end all too soon for many students again this summer, as well. Many families find their calendar filled with swim lessons, band camps, sports camps, missions trips, yard work projects, visits to theme parks like Six Flags, and so on. However, I hope there will also be those opportunities to slow down a bit and enjoy something nearby, perhaps for the first time, perhaps in a new way – like I remember doing as a child. Again from Diamond Rio: “Sweet summer, yeah I remember that / Sweet summer, let me take you back …”

Wyndham in Greensboro
Hmmm…where to go next this summer? (Photo from an August Saturday spent with my older son at The Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, NC.)