I pause this Thanksgiving night to think about the sheer blessing of what I experienced today. No, it was not the day you probably expected me to talk about, wrapped in the lively but wonderful chaos that my six little grandkids bring to any celebration. That will happen tomorrow.
Instead, I spent today in the laughing, loving bosom of my extended family--a gathering of some fifty or more of us representing five generations of descendants from my paternal grandparents. In that family, I fall in the chronological middle of fifteen grandchildren, as my dad occupied the middle spot among the seven siblings of a Depression-era farm family eking out an existence alongside Flat Creek in Morgan County, Missouri.
I remember my dad once remarking that my grandma could not envision a world where cars would one day zoom across the country at 70 miles per hour. That makes me wonder if she would ever have imagined our gathering today, realizing the extent of the legacy she and Grandpa would leave in the generations to come.
Though the sheer number of us is impressive, I am much more taken by the fact that, as an extended family, we still gather together regularly, once for a summer reunion and again on Thanksgiving Day. In spite of the geographically mobile society we have become, most of us still show up for at least one of these yearly events if we can. So do many of our kids and grandkids.
We represent states as far north as Minnesota and as far south as Texas, and still we come together. We do this because we are family, and, simply put, we love each other. My cousins and I gather to renew early friendships forged climbing our grandparents' trees and playing in their hayloft. We have kept up with each other all our lives. I know many families who couldn't--or perhaps just didn't--do that, and I am sorry they had to miss this special brand of camaraderie.
Today nine of the fifteen of us, along with one older and three younger generations, shared turkey and the trimmings in a lavish and traditional Thanksgiving feast. When our grandparents passed away some fifty-three or so years ago, we were all children and teens--and one of us was not yet born. But here we are in all our turkey-stuffed, dessert-laden glory, in a rare shot captured by what seemed like a million cell phones all flashing at once:
In another fifty years my own grandkids will be nearing the age I am now. I can only hope for them the blessings that can be theirs only through nurturing the bonds that join an extended family such as mine. It seems that, with each subsequent generation, doing that in our world will prove to be an even greater challenge.
Don't get me wrong--our lives have not been perfect. Among us we have faced broken marriages, strained relationships, and job problems. We have endured the deaths of loved ones and serious illnesses among ourselves.
But through it all we remain a fan club that exists to cheer one another on through this life, and for that, on this Thanksgiving night, I am eternally grateful.