Blessed by God

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You know that maybe you’re aging when CBS Sunday Morning is your favorite TV show. 

This morning they had a segment about hunger in the US.  There is a photo from earlier this year with thousands of cars in San Antonio in line waiting for a food distribution center to open.  THOUSANDS.  Thousands of hungry people right here in the US.

Last Tuesday I spent several hours at the YMCA in Garner, North Carolina, helping to distribute boxes of food to people in my community.  They drove up and volunteers loaded a small turkey, hamburger meat, a large casserole and a box of fresh produce into their trunk.

My job that evening was greeter.  As each car drove up, I welcomed them, determined how many folks were in their family and logged the amount of food they would take. 

I arrived at 4:30 PM, the distribution was slated to start at 5.  There were about 30 cars already in line.  For two hours I did not stop – greeting family after family after family.

A few of the folks I met were a bit reticent, seemingly fearful I would ask a ton of questions – maybe auditing who they were picking up for or logging their address.  Some seemed a bit embarrassed to be there.  Understandable.  I might feel the same way if in that position.

The great thing was that we had no questions for them – they just told us how many people they were feeding, and we loaded. 

I worked really hard to put folks at ease asking if they had a good day or if they were feeling well.  I thanked them for stopping by the Y as if they could have chosen to pick free food up from a competitor.

What I noticed is that many of these folks who are concerned about where their next meal might come from seemed joyful.  Not all, but many.  I could see it in their eyes, the way they lit up at my questions or expressed massive gratitude for our work.  A genuine smile, one you can see in the eyes; a belly laugh; or happy kids singing in the backseat. 

When responding to my question, “How are you doing today?” one lady responded, “I am blessed by God.”  She then added, “I just have to keep reminding myself.”

A friend shared with me that they were lamenting about a problem in their life when another friend suggested:  You should go volunteer, help someone else.  (i.e. – take the focus off yourself!)

It is surprising to me that I don’t always readily see how blessed I am by God.  Last week was certainly a good reminder for me.

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Turkey Innards

I had a slight panic attack today.  My parents are 77, and I’m not sure what we’re going to do when they stop cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  Yo – mom and dad, we’re gonna need a decade’s notice, I’m just saying.

I ain’t eating that important feast at an old folks home I’m telling you that.  Turkey should be sliced, not pureed.  And I’m extremely uncomfortable with my stuffing being served out of an ice cream scoop.

I’m not too worried about my side of the family.  That sister-in-law is fair in the kitchen and there are some nieces honing their skills.  My brother can deep fry a turkey – although it’s a fire hazard if the singeing of his eyebrows from illegal fireworks last Fourth of July is any indication.  I’ll just stay inside.

But the other side of the family is really going to struggle.  That sister-in-law is really good at injecting monkeys with infectious diseases but give her a pot and she’s dumbfounded.  And then there’s Uncle Jesse – you can’t buy Thanksgiving dinner from the Steak and Shake.

Oh, I got an idea!  I hear Martha Stewart is on Match.com!  Maybe I should sign up and woo her.  I got a lot to offer – work for a nonprofit, three teen daughters, skinny but with slight love handles – how could she pass on that?  I know, she’s a little older than me, but she would certainly bring something to the table, literally.  And Stephanie has a rip in one of her sheets, I bet she could get us a deal to replace that at the K-Mart.

Boy would that be a change.  The one time Lisa and I were responsible for Thanksgiving dinner, she told me to get the stuff from between the turkey’s legs.  I reached my hand in – “Oh my Lord Lisa!  This bird has an erection!”

“What?”

“I swear.  I felt it.  Go ahead, touch it!”

“I am NOT touching that fowl’s foul.  Get it out!  We aren’t serving a turkey’s penis for Thanksgiving!”

“Some people must like it or they wouldn’t leave it in there.”

“I bet the factory workers just refuse to remove them.”

Later my mom told me it was the bird’s neck.  He sure must have been flexible.

I know!  I’ll just give the girls cooking lessons for their Christmas present this year.  They’ll love it!

In the meantime, I’m gonna get my dad to have my niece remove the turkey innards on Thursday – the old one who rudely froze all my underwear at the beach this summer.  I can’t wait!

Memories Sweet Memories

Although I do enjoy Christmas, I think Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. I, better than anyone, like a great gift on December 25.  I’m even buying myself a few things this year since Lisa isn’t here to spoil me. But to some extent, the presents have become a detractor to me. I’m getting to the age that simple time with family and friends is the only gift I care much about.

When I was a boy, we always drove to Florence, SC, for Thanksgiving. Both sets of grandparents lived down there.

A perfect Day started at Grandmamma and Granddaddy Ham’s house. The woman was the best cook south of the Mason Dixon line.

She would shuck ears of white corn and cut the kernels off the cob. She’d add butter, salt and who knows what else. When you put the stuff in your mouth, it was like tasting heaven.

Her hand cut slaw had onions that would make the hair on your arms stand up straight – I get gas just thinking about it. Boy was it tasty.

My other grandmother, we called her Idee, never saw a vegetable that didn’t come from a can; but she was more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

One Thanksgiving afternoon she talked Spurgeon, my grandfather, into driving my brother and me back into the 100 acres of woods behind their house. There was a dirt road that led to a pond on the land which had been in their family for decades.

After a twenty-minute drive and a few stops to move branches, we arrived at our destination – picture a scene from the Andy Griffith show. As we got out of the car and headed to the small basin, my brother yelled out: “Snake!!”

It was not a snake at all – it was a frickin’ anaconda. At least six feet long, this diamond back rattler was meandering along the shore line. Two senior citizens and a couple of grade school kids weren’t going to interrupt his Thanksgiving stroll.

Papa ran to the car, opened the trunk and grabbed a shovel. Yeah, this 70 something year old man was going to whack this beast in the head with a garden tool. It was like fighting a dragon with a frying pan.

As the serpent saw him nearing, he coiled up and began shaking his tail. It sounded like a Cuban maraca band.

I immediately ran my behind to the car and locked the doors in the event my family was eaten and the slimy varmint decided my skinny brother didn’t fill ’em up. My grandfather was not deterred by my departure.

“Spurgeon, you are not going after that snake with a shovel,” my grandma yelled.

“Oh Ivy,” I’d heard that response before on many occasions. It meant, Don’t spoil my fun again lady.

“Spurgeon, you’ll get killed! Chad, so something.”

As Papa, who was a bit clumsy to say the least, charged toward Sir Hiss, my sixth grade older brother knelt in front of him causing him to stumble and fall to the ground.

My grandmother grabbed the shovel, “If anything gets beaten to death today, it’ll be you old man.”

He sheepishly stood up, a bit rattled but alive. Both the snake and my grandfather survived. Although Spurgeon had to go home with Idee, which for a few days must have seemed worse than a little venom in his blood stream.

Not all of my Thanksgivings have a memory so vivid. But some of the warmest internal feelings I own are of sitting at two formica tables in Florence, SC – one tan on the top with a black ring around the side, the other white speckled with chrome legs and uncomfortable chairs.

We drank a lot of coffee in those two kitchens, and I learned a lot about being a man.

Boy what I’d give to go back for just one more Thursday.

Sunday Post 98: Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving after Lisa died, I couldn’t sit at my parent’s dining room table.  There was something about that extra leaf – the additional chairs crowded around the dark walnut wood, the missing place setting, the stuffing she offered to make because she didn’t much like my parent’s South Carolina cornbread dressing – not on the table that year.

It was painful just to walk in their house.  There were so many good memories – and at the time, every single one of them seemed torn to shreds.

The second year, the meal was easier.  The family enjoyed conversation.  We didn’t avoid her name – but the memories shared brought more smiles than tears.  But it was still difficult to be thankful.  My focus was on what I lost, not what I had.

How do you bow your head and thank God when you feel He has taken your most valued relationship, your very best friend?

I think it starts when you stop looking within and begin looking out.  Anger is natural, but it’s also pretty selfish.

When I got to the point that I could put my life into perspective, when I could see how many others in this world had so many bigger obstacles than I had, then and only then could I find a reason to be thankful.  The real kicker came when I saw numerous others, who had suffered a great deal more than I, talking about how grateful they were for their many blessings.  I couldn’t see mine, and I certainly couldn’t see theirs.

This year is different.  This year, I see so much good.

My three girls

My good friends

All of the grandparents

Uncle Jesse, Aunt Sallie, Uncle Dash, Uncle Matt and Aunt Mel

My job and my co-workers

My church family

My home

and that’s just scratching the surface…

The Mirror Ball

Posted by Danny

On Friday we headed to the mountains to cut a fresh Frazier Fir Christmas tree, an annual Tanner family tradition.  Last year Jesse went with us and the two mountain men running the tree farm clearly thought we were a gay couple.  I suppose that’s understandable, although he’s much too young for me.  This year it was the girls, my in-laws and me.

We made reservations in a small motel near Elkin, NC.  When we opened the door to our room, it sort of felt like the set of a seedy 1960’s movie; the brown paneling identical to our family basement on Berkshire Road where we played spin the bottle as kids – a game I’m sure my older brother introduced to the neighborhood gang.  It certainly wasn’t me.

Stephanie immediately headed to the bathroom and within seconds an outlandish screech erupted from her gut, “Ewwww!!!  A bug daddy!  It’s enormous.”

“I swear.  Where is he?”

“In the tub!  Dad, get him.”

Why am I always the default exterminator? 

As I headed toward the speckled blue tiled floor, Michelle smartly informed me that she wasn’t taking a shower until we got back home.

“I don’t see him Steph.”

“He’s in the tub!”

I was ready for a fight, pulling my boot off to squash him…but he was already dead.  “Stephanie, I can’t believe you screamed like that, he’s not even alive.”

Is this worth a deafening scream?

After bug fest, I returned to the room.  The television was on top of the dresser and had a brown wooden frame.  There was actually a round dial to control the volume.  Michelle asked, “Is that a microwave?” 

Old TV or motel microwave?

“No honey.  That is a TV similar to the one I had as a child.”  She looked troubled. 

When you turned the channel, the current picture sort of rolled up the screen while the next channel bounced into place underneath – kind of like a slot machine.  I was surprised not to find Greg and Marsha Brady on channel 5; after all, it was Friday night at 8 pm.

There was a rusty heater that didn’t work, built into the bathroom wall.  “Is that an ash tray dad?”

“No.  But we had those too when I was a kid.”

The curtains were held together with a hair clip.  I told the girls they were welcome to use it to get gussied up for our tree expedition on Saturday; none took me up on the offer.

For me, the peak of the evening came at dinner.  We ate at the restaurant in the front parking lot of the motel and the food was actually pretty good.  There were three families dining and one left shortly after we arrived.  Near the dance floor in the corner, a weathered fifty year old man belted out Clapton and Dylan while strumming his acoustic guitar.  His tip jar eager for some action.

I remembered my occasional apprehension about dancing when Lisa was alive – I felt so conspicuous on a barren dance floor.  When she died and I realized I  could no longer hold her to music, I promised I would never pass up that opportunity again. 

“Stephanie, you want to two-step?” I asked.

“I don’t think I know how.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

So Nana and Pops, the girls and I took advantage of the mirror ball.  And when we finished, the other couple in the restaurant applauded.  And I think Lisa did too.

Sunday Post 45: Finding Thanksgiving

Posted by Danny

Thanksgiving – sometimes it’s hard to see.

There are a couple of times throughout the year that I sort of conduct an informal assessment of my life. I always go running on my birthday. In part to prove that I still can; in part to think. I do the same sort of thinking at Thanksgiving.

This year, on my drive to my parent’s house, I began mulling over all that I had – and my mind began to wander. I started thinking about others – not something I do often enough.

I thought of folks who are in fierce battles with cancer right now. There are others who have lost spouses and even their children. I think about some of the tough living conditions of children who attend some of our Y programs. And I know of so many who just seem lonely.

I, on the other hand, in many regards, have it all.

I just spent 20 minutes putting Michelle to bed. It’s seldom a quick process. I have to scratch each of her limbs. We say a prayer and talk about the people we pray for. Sometimes we talk in languages we make up – and laugh at what we think the other might be saying. And that same special time is repeated with Stephanie and DJ – almost every night. Talk about a blessing.

I’ve got Jesse and my best bud Brad – these are really good dudes to have in your corner.

I have parents and in-laws that I love and get along with – not everyone can claim that. The girls and I just spent the night in the mountains with Lisa’s parents cutting down our Christmas tree, a long-standing family tradition.

And, I love the people I work with on a daily basis.

It’s difficult to mope; it takes a great deal of self centeredness not to see the good in all that I have.

Maybe a fresh heaping helping of perspective is what we all need this season – changing the focus from what we don’t have to all we do have.

When we make that switch, it’s pretty easy to see our blessings. I hope you did this past week.

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