Dad sat all five of us down in the living room–including the youngest, who didn’t really sit, despite the sober atmosphere in the room.
“Mom’s really sick, kids. She has pneumonia. She’s gonna get better, but she’s going to have to rest. To stay in bed for a few days.”
He saw the confusion in our faces. Mom never stayed in bed. And this week was Thanksgiving! What about the feast she always created single-handedly? We had no family in the state to gather with so Mom always did all the work, from stuffing the turkey to broiling the marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes, plus at least two different pies.
How would we celebrate Thanksgiving without Mom?
Dad was quick to follow up with a solution he and Mom had already discussed. He just had to sell it to his tradition-clinging children: we’d go to Miss Annie’s for Thanksgiving.
Miss Annie was an exciting little woman we’d met at church who’d invited us over before. We children were fascinated by her. She had a fancy house, a funny little dog, and a player piano. My brothers and I considered it. This might not be so bad.
Dad explained that Miss Annie hosted all the single people from church every year who didn’t have family to celebrate with, and she’d invited us to join them.
On Thursday morning we all paraded into Mom’s room to get our outfits approved and give her a final hug. We were worried about her being lonely, but Dad assured us she would love the quiet of five children gone for the day and it would help her get better faster. Then we were off to Miss Annie’s where we found the house full of some of our favorite people–looking back I realize my parents had a ministry to the single people themselves, for us children were well acquainted with many of the group because of the times they’d joined us for Sunday dinner in the last year.
And much to our delight, they had all the right food to celebrate Thanksgiving–fresh rolls, green been casserole with crispy onions on top, cranberry sauce and plenty of pie.
Mom’s bout of pneumonia was a turning point in how our family celebrated Thanksgiving. Before, we had seen it as a day to embrace tradition and our favorite foods. But since tasting of Annie’s generous hospitality the year our Thanksgiving was threatened, we began to view it as an opportunity to reach out.
We knew how it felt to have Thanksgiving rescued, so we decided to make it our mission to rescue it for others.
One year it was Mr. Chris, the pharmacist at Wal-Mart whose family had to be out of town. Another year it was a Russian immigrant with an accent so thick we could barely understand him, but a clear appreciation for Mom’s pie.
Thanksgiving became the holiday we turned outwards and looked for who we could bring into the warmth of our home and family. Sometimes this meant putting an extra dish on the menu that was foreign to us but would bless our guest. Sometimes the guest was last minute, and nearly a stranger. But this tradition added a novel new spice to a holiday full of predictable flavors.
Now, Thanksgiving doesn’t quite feel right without an extra place-setting or two, and it’s like a treasure hunt in the days leading up to the feast to find that person who most needs to be invited into our celebration. It’s become my favorite Thanksgiving tradition.
Does your family have a unique Thanksgiving dish or tradition? I’d love to hear how it started in the comments!