Reflecting on Thanksgiving

This blog is more about Thanksgiving in my household than the Blackburn House. I thought I’d share a bit about what happened in our household for the holiday as turkey day is still on everyone’s mind and in their stomachs.

This year in the Grube household, it was only going to be us. It was only going to be Mom, Dad, and the kids. Mom’s sister was not coming. Dad’s mother was not coming. A few friends had been invited but couldn’t make it. Skip’s fiancée was working over the holiday, so she couldn’t come up. Skip wouldn’t be here for Christmas because he would be with his fiancée’s family. This was it. The final year that we would have to spend as just a family, a small, albeit obnoxious, nuclear family.

Except, there was Miss Mary Margaret. Mom volunteers at a retirement home for missionaries, and she had mentioned her plans for Thanksgiving to Miss Mary Margaret, a former Deaconess and currently a tottering, ninety year old woman in a walker. Mom had invited her and some other women for Christmas but not for Thanksgiving. A few days after Mom declares Thanksgiving plans to this ninety year old woman, Dad gets a call from Miss Mary Margaret.

“Tell Mary I would be delighted to come for Thanksgiving.”

Oh. That was not the plan.

The thoughts that ran through Mom’s head. Do I call her and tell her no? How can I tell this little old lady no? I mean she was a deacon… Is that liking telling a retired pastor no? How will I tell the kids? What am I going to do?

These are the sorts of thoughts that I imagine raced through my mother’s mind. To many of us, these might seem like very small details, but to the woman cooking and preparing for the meal, this was a rather large consideration.

In the end, our family played host. Dad and Will drove the thirty minutes to pick up Miss Mary Margaret, walker and all. She couldn’t weigh more than 120 lbs.

She had those glasses that were stylish in the eighties for people above the age of fifty. I didn’t know her very well. She didn’t talk much. Her hair had reached that point that it just became a gentle white cloud settling over her face. She was sweet woman, but quiet mostly.

The five Grube’s were all about the hustle and bustle. The kitchen was loud. Everyone was setting things up. It seemed full and bubbling. Mom talked to Miss Mary Margaret in the kitchen, or rather talked at her. Finally, the feast was ready.

We are not a quiet family. I used to wonder why people felt overwhelmed by us. I mean we’re only five people, we’re really not that many. I think I stumbled upon that answer in a crowded restaurant once, we were the loudest of the bunch. You can imagine that Thanksgiving was not a quiet affair. Even with five of us, conversations are happening all at once. There is no coherent discussion. I’m talking to Mom. Skip’s talking to Dad. Will’s joining whatever talk suits him best. Throughout this there’s a lot of Huh?’s and What’s that?’s. You should see us in a group setting, it’s utter chaos.

And then in the middle of it, there’s quiet lull. Throughout all of this, Miss Mary Margaret had been quietly listening, laughing at jokes, and eating. Mom turns to her and asks about her years as a missionary.

She launches to the many years she spent in Sierra Leone as the head of a doctor’s clinic. She herself not a doctor, but managing a site that offered AIDS screening and such. She spent twenty years in Africa. She never married and rarely saw her family. Her brother in law did come for two years as a doctor.

Wow.

I can’t imagine getting used to that lifestyle, a whole new culture, a new way of viewing the world for twenty years. We live here with the Thanksgiving holiday and all our American customs. Our culture is not just a comfortable lifestyle but something we do just as easy as breathing air.

I’m not here to turn this around to, “Wow, we have so much more in America than a lot of people in foreign countries.” That’s not the point I’m trying to make.

I’m trying to think about how we live. Our culture, like the culture in Sierra Leone, is something we take for granted. The way our families are, the way that we celebrate holidays, or the way we think about families on holidays is a new perspective to both parties. But this tottering, little old woman chose to live, really live, in another world for twenty years. She chose to adopt a new life style and to be an immigrant, despite having to give up her traditions.

I’m grateful for people who take the time to understand others. People like Miss Mary Margaret who get outside themselves; who get outside their families and their culture; and who aren’t trying to save humanity. They’re trying to understand humanity. I’ve always had an extreme bias towards foreign missionaries, but the more she talked it seemed to be more from a broader scope. It was more her trying to understand a culture rather than thrusting her own on it. It’s people like Miss Mary Margaret that I’m grateful for, people who push the boundary because humanity longs to include itself.

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