By Daris Howard
I was 19 years old, living in New York, and a long way from home. It was Thanksgiving time, and I knew I would not be able to go home for Thanksgiving. Two different families. that attended the same church I did, invited me to Thanksgiving dinner. The first dinner was to be at about noon, and the second would be around 7:00 in the evening. Being young, and having a big appetite, I figured I would be fine accepting both. On that morning, I ate a light breakfast so I could heartily enjoy the feasting of the day.
The father of the first family was a company executive, and the family had a lot of money. I was sure it would be a great meal. I arrived at their home at about 11:00 as requested. As I approached the house, the aroma of roasting turkey, pumpkin pie, sage, and many other smells filled the air, making my mouth water.
I was invited in, and spent some time visiting with the father until dinner was ready. When we stepped into the dining room, I was amazed. Though there were only the two parents and two children, a table large enough to hold an army brigade was set and beautifully decorated. It was loaded with every conceivable type of food for the season. At one end sat pies of every variety, outnumbering the people to eat them by at least two to one.
As everyone took their place at the table, I expressed my amazement that they could put together that much food in one morning. The mother blushed. “Actually, we just purchased most of it already made. The only thing I really cooked was the turkey and the potatoes. ”
Before we ate, as was their tradition, the father of the home called on each one to share something they were thankful for. Each member of the family, amid the opulence that surrounded them, struggled to find something. The father was grateful for his job, the mother for their new car, the children for a new bike, and a special doll.
Home cooked or not, the meal was wonderful, and I ate until I could hardly waddle my way from the table. I enjoyed most of the afternoon with them before heading to the second dinner.
The second home was a poor, immigrant family. The family, including children from about 3 years old to beautiful teenage daughters, excitedly greeted me when I arrived. There were seven children in all, plus the parents, and they all lived in a small two bedroom apartment.
As we sat down to dinner, the turkey was more likely a chicken, and not a large one at that. But even though the food was not fancy, there was plenty of bread, beans, and other simpler foods filling the table.
After everyone was seated, the father asked each person to share what they were thankful for. Starting with the oldest daughter, each child expressed thanks for food, a nice place to live, and especially for family. No one mentioned anything about material things except for the necessities of life.
When the father’s turn came, he became emotional as he expressed, in his broken English, his love and gratitude for his family, his thankfulness for their new citizenship in this great country, and for the freedoms from tyranny that they enjoyed here.
When it was my turn, the many material possessions I had seemed insignificant. Instead, I thought of my own family at home who would be enjoying their own meal and praying for my safety as I was far from home. I also looked at the beautiful smiling faces around me, and thought of my new friends. Awkwardly, I expressed my gratitude not for things, but for people – good people.
Then we ate what was probably the simplest, and, yet, one of the most satisfying meals of my life as I pondered my fuller understanding of true thankfulness.