Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Is there hope for our world?
As the days of 2012 wind down, I think we can all agree on one thing—it has been a difficult, heartbreaking year for individuals and communities all across these United States. The despicable, wanton murder of innocent children and adults by crazed individuals; the widespread destruction of property and lives by Mother Nature; and the hard financial times suffered by so many of our families, cause us to wonder if there is hope for our world.
For many years it has been my tradition to tell an old-fashioned, feel-good holiday story in this space in the last column of the year. And if ever we needed a reason to feel good, the time is now. Today I’m going to take you back to another time of heartache and suffering. Fear in the form of The Great Depression stalked the land of these United States and the only joy that could be found was in family ties.
This story is attributed to farmer Webster Howe’s recollection of his favorite Thanksgiving but it could have been told by my father who was also living in the hills of Missouri trying to help his father eke out a living for their family of five after the death of his mother. Eventually they all emigrated to Calif. Mr. Howe tells a similar tale with a different ending.
“It was 1934 or ’35. Our kids had all left home lookin’ for work in California and in Kansas, takin’ all the little ones with them. Probably to starve, as Mother put it. There was no one left on the farm but me, Mother and John, our youngest son.
In those days there was want all across this country. Where we was you couldn’t hardly make a thin dime. We milked our string of cows and couldn’t sell the milk; fed it to the pigs and couldn’t sell the pigs but we was blessed with food and work.
That year we put up more dried and canned stuff and put down and smoked more meat than we ever done before or since. You’d of thought we was squirrels, putting’ away nuts for a hard winter.
Anyway, it got to be the week before Thanksgivin’ and we didn’t hear nothin’ from any of the kids livin’ in Kansas or Calif. Mother had writ them long letters and wondered if any of them was comin’ home for the holiday.
When she didn’t hear, she jest went out one mornin’ and killed two big tom turkeys and dressed them. Then she set about making apple, mince and pumpkin pies. By evenin’ the bread and baked stuff began to pile up till I asked who she was cookin’ all that for, me and John? She never even answered me.
I tell you, it got to me. Mother was workin’ hard and lookin’ tired. I was getting’ bitter at the kids who hadn’t even answered their mother’s letter.
Well, it didn’t get no better and by the time we was doing chores the night before Thanksgivin’ me and John was feeling low too. I still had two cows to go, when I heard a car drive up. John left the feedin’ and went out to look. He come runnin’ back and told me to come quick, he’s finish up later.
When I stepped out of the barn, there was my son Ken’s old touring car loaded with women and kids and Jack, my son-in-law, jumpin’ out of it. I jest turned around and went back into the barn. John came to get me and said they’d jest come down after me if I didn’t come on up to the house.
At the house there was a lot of laughin’ and talkin’ and everyone was huggin’ Mother and John and me. When we went inside, John, poured coffee for the grownups and icy cold milk for all the children. Mother and the girls went to the pantry for something to eat and we could hear them teasin’ and laughin’ about all the stuff she’d made.
Then with both hands full of cookies, the littlest grandchild come out to lean against my chair. She was a purty little redheaded kid. She told me that up in Kansas they didn’t have no cookies like Grandma made. I looked down at her and seen right away that she was as scrawny as a lamb whose mother didn’t have enough milk to feed it. About then, Mother and Daughter walked out of the pantry.
Daughter has always been the bravest of all my children but when she looked straight at me, I saw fear in her eyes. Never sheddin’ a tear, not a waver in her strong voice, she told us how they’d been broke most of the time and how they’d sold everything to get the money to come home. Without asking for an ounce of pity, she made me a deal to work out their keep till things picked up as though I wouldn’t a taken them in for nothing’.
My boy Ken, he never said nothin’, neither did his wife, they jest let Daughter talk. Jack, our son-in-law, never said a word, jest sat there with his kind of down and his elbows on his knees. Mother seen he was feelin’ shamed for not bein’ able to take care of his own, so she told him how much we was needin’ help and how his comin’ was a real godsend.
The next day was Thanksgivin’ Day. The boys helped me with chores, then we sat awhile in the barn and talked about how we was goin’ to make it. And how bad it was in Kansas and on up north. The women spent the whole mornin’ puttin’ dinner together. Then about two o’clock we ate.
Sitting’ there at the crowded table, covered with plates and food, the family all spruced up and smilin’, Mother lookin’ like the Spirit of God had descended on her purty face, put me to mind of my own pa and ma and my own brothers, and I remembered the old, old prayer my father said at our table:
We thank Thee, then O Father,
For all things bright and good
The seed-time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food.
Accept the gifts we offer
For all Thy love imparts,
And what Thou most desirest,
Our humble thankful hearts.”
The prayer of this (then) 96-year-old man certainly gives me pause to reflect. Along with the deep, deep sorrows of 2012 we have also received blessings. It reminds me that now—the day after Christmas and all the days to come—is the time to practice the spirit of Christmas. In this New Year may we resolve to share the gifts of love, joy, peace and hope every day, in every way, with everyone.
Yes, there is hope for this world and it begins with us.
Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail — firstname.lastname@example.org