November 19, 2009 | N/A
When I married my husband Paul, I had no idea just how the Navy would enrich our lives. Our first Thanksgiving was on Guam. The weather is pretty much 80 degrees and humid year-round, and it didn’t add to the ambience of Thanksgiving. I was determined to make it a holiday, despite the warm tropical breezes.
We had so little but invited all the officers from Paul’s ship to join us for dinner. We provided the turkey and fixings and asked our guests to bring a plate, silverware, a glass and a chair. It was a crowded apartment, stuffing out of the box and some overcooked potatoes, but we all had such a wonderful time. We were grateful to come together. It is the Thanksgiving that stands out for me. (We spent the next two weeks trying to figure out which plate belonged to whom!)
“Thanksgiving in the Hospital”
When I was 12 years old, my nine-year-old brother, Dave, began having symptoms of profound weakness, loss of appetite and constant thirst. An emergency room visit confirmed my grandmother’s diagnosis: Dave had diabetes.
Our family spent most of Thanksgiving week in the hospital. Dave learned about insulin injections, his new diet and how to manage his life as a juvenile diabetic. During that week in the hospital, we watched the “Ed Sullivan Show” in Dave’s room on Sunday night which included the first ever U.S. appearance of The Beatles. They sang, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” My dad, a Lawrence Welk man, was not impressed!
Thirty-two years later, around Thanksgiving week, I brought Dave (a former Calvin textbook buyer) to the Blodgett ER in the middle of the night. He had severe chest pain. He died at 5 a.m. of a massive cardiac arrest. The ER nurse gave me his clothes, watch and wallet in a paper bag. Then I drove to Chicago to tell my parents.
During Thanksgiving season, I reflect on that week in the hospital, watching The Beatles in Dave’s room and that final Thanksgiving week visit to the ER. I am forever grateful for time with my brother, my amazing and faithful parents, and the great family memories I have from my childhood. I’ve been profoundly blessed, and I am grateful!
Every Thanksgiving Day, members of the Bolt family participate in the annual Turkey Bowl. All ages are welcome, and no football skill is necessary!
Because I grew up in Canada my memories of Thanksgiving usually involved our family getting together and doing something outside, since Canadian Thanksgiving is in October, and the weather is usually mild. We'd go for a walk or a hike, and my dad would often barbeque. Our traditional meals often included hot dogs and brats on a bun. Turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing was something that we ate at Christmas time, so the traditional Thanksgiving turkey in November was kind of a foreign notion. When I started living in the states, I had to get used to this big meal at Thanksgiving, and the fact that many Americans eat out at large Thanksgiving buffets. My wife's family helped me out by introducing to the Thanksgiving buffet, as well as to things I'd never eaten before, such as green bean casserole and sweet potatoes. Fortunately the adjustment period didn't take too long because, well, as many people know, I like food. So, the great thing about Thanksgiving and being Canadian is that you have a reason to be thankful and eat with your family twice!
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, because it's about gathering together to celebrate your blessings with family and friends; it's not about gifts, but rather about simply being together. There's a certain warmth that fills the home on Thanksgiving, and I believe there's nothing more intimate than sharing a large, home-cooked meal with those close to you, filling the room with laughter and reflecting on what brings you joy.
Adventures with a frozen bird
Every woman remembers her first turkey. Okay, a handful of men probably do too. Suffice it to say, it’s hard to forget your first battle with a 10-25 lb. frozen bird. Mine happened in my second year of college, when I was naïve enough to invite 12 or so of my friends (international students, missionary kids and Canadians) for a huge meal involving foods I’d never made before.
It was the night before Thanksgiving—probably 1 or 2 a.m. I was supposed to be sleeping, but a truly horrifying thought had wakened me: Where is the bird I’m making for Thanksgiving dinner?
My dear friends had been kind enough to go grocery shopping for our Thanksgiving Day meal on Wednesday evening while I was at work. Hailing from sub-Saharan Africa and western Canada, they hadn’t a shred of experience with game poultry. My mid-slumber panic was not unwarranted.
The bird had been placed in a freezer (where else would someone put a large bird on the night before it needed to be cooked?) My friends had put it in the only freezer they could find with enough room to hold a 20-pound bird: one belonging to sensible college girls who’d gone to bed early, stuffed their ears with cotton and locked their doors to keep out turkey snatchers.
A smart person would have given up at this point.
But my friends were not deterred. They would have their turkey (and eat it too—maybe). They climbed onto the balcony of our turkey’s temporary home and got in through the unlocked sliding glass door. The girls never stirred, and we had our turkey.
We put the bird in my refrigerator and left it there until I returned from work at noon on Thanksgiving Day.
It turned out a frozen turkey is not like a frozen pizza. You can’t just throw it in the oven and expect it to do its thing. The turkey wrapper that I did not read clearly instructed: “Allow your frozen turkey to thaw in the refrigerator for 2-3 days before cooking.” At 12 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, I still had a very frozen bird on my hands.
Here is another point at which a smart person would have given up.
Ever filled with youthful determination, we decided to give the turkey a hot water bath. We placed the turkey in the sink, turned the tap on and … cold water. Inclement weather had thrown the hot water heater in the apartment building out (this happened quite a bit in the apartments that year, so I should have planned ahead for this).
A smart person would have thrown a pizza party for her friends on Thanksgiving after all this.
But no one wanted to eat pizza on Thanksgiving, so we soldiered on. Every large pot we could find or steal in the building was quickly filled with water and placed on one of eight burners available to us. Gallon by steaming gallon, I poured the water down the turkey’s neck cavity while my friend held the bird by its wings over the kitchen sink.
In all this, we showed great resilience, but one thing almost threw us over the edge: discovering the “presents” the turkey factory people had left in the bird’s neck and chest cavities. It would be a few more years before I would learn that the customary neck and giblets left inside the turkey could go into stock for delicious gravy.
By the time we had the bird ready to go in the oven—properly stuffed, tied and fit for a king—it was after 5 p.m. Of course, we didn’t have a pan big enough to set the bad boy in to roast. This prompted more breaking, entering and stealing from neighbors (with explanations and apologies after the fact).
Sadly, the oven did not break (as much as that would have added to this story). In the end, our turkey came out of the oven glistening golden and unbelievably moist. It was more beautiful than any turkey I had ever seen—or will ever see. I’m pretty sure Martha Stewart did not enjoy her Thanksgiving turkey that year as much as we enjoyed ours.
Of course, Martha probably ate at a respectable hour, sometime between 1 and 3 p.m., after the Macy’s Day parade and before kickoff.
We ate happily and heartily at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving for me is mostly about family. As a kid I can remember getting together with my mom's side of the family, the Vande Slunts, at a gym or a rec center. My mom is the sixth of seventh children, so there were always loads of cousins to play with! When I started coaching college basketball, we always had a game or a practice over the weekend, so we haven't been back there for a long, long time, but the family still gathers. Beginning when we were in Sioux Falls, we started to fill the void, and then some, by gathering with the Veldhouse family (Terry and Ladene and Paul, Joel, Kyle and Caleb— all Calvin grads), who also had no family around over Thanksgiving. They, plus my wife Vicki and I and our four boys, became a surrogate family for each other. Over the past four years, with Caleb playing basketball for Calvin, the clan, now including the boys' wives and girlfriends and recent grandsons, has all eaten with us. The awesome meal is mostly provided by my wife, Vicki, and is surrounded by games—everything from full-contact croquet to heated battles of Wii and Cranium, etc. The great news is that they all plan to be in Grand Rapids again this year. Put away the valuable furniture!
As I finished the last of my 15 physical therapy appointments following arthroscopic shoulder surgery last week, I asked Damir, my therapist, a native of Bosnia, if he had any plans for Thanksgiving. He replied, “I don’t know yet. I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I’ll have to see what my girl friend is doing that day.” His comment surprised me a bit, but since I was his last patient for the day, I didn’t ask him to explain further … .
As I live out my daily routine at home and at work here at Calvin, Damir’s comment reminds me that maybe there are more people beyond my circle of acquaintances who need to know why we celebrate Thanksgiving … . My grandfather, a former Calvin seminary professor, used to say that Thanksgiving should not just be celebrated on one day but should become thanks-living all year long. So, as you sit down to your abundant Thanksgiving Day meal, give thanks to God, the source of all our blessings, and continue the celebration by spreading the thanks-living out over the other 364 days of the year—so that those who don’t celebrate may understand what they are missing!
Grateful rest and quilting
I began making a quilt last year, because my daughter asked me to make one for her and her husband in their new home. I had never made a quilt before. This is like my daughter, to ask me to do something that I have never done before. One year for Christmas she gave me 10 skeins of maroon yarn, crochet needles, a pattern and suggested that I make a blanket. This sort of request is a bit ironic for me because I am not someone who enjoys sitting. I like to move. I wonder if she perceives a need in me to rest and is enabling that by offering projects that require me to slow down and rest? Take small steps, wait patiently for the whole. So, I crocheted the afghan, and now I am completing this quilt for my daughter.
I spent many long hours this past year in my basement with my new Bernina sewing machine and Fiskar scissors. My year has been filled with colorful fabric squares and the sounds of sewing. I have a dear friend who serves as my quilting mentor who teaches me that it is okay to remove stitches and correct mistakes—or just to let them go. She reminds me to take my time and view the quilt in small pieces and that it will eventually come together as a beautiful whole—in time.
I had hoped to complete this blanket by Thanksgiving, but I was unexpectedly stopped in these plans by a medical situation that slowed me down. In fact, it stopped me in my tracks. I have had the opportunity to stop, sit and wait, and do nothing else. I have not even been able to quilt. Waiting and doing nothing is new for me. I have noticed, when I look around, that God is present even when I sit and am not producing something.
I will be fine, but the quilt will not be done for Thanksgiving—maybe for Christmas.
In my Dutch Chicago family-of-origin, everyone went bowling on Thanksgiving evening. It didn’t matter whether you liked bowling or not, whether you were good or not or if you only had one leg. Everyone in the family went bowling on Thanksgiving night.
My wife, Nancy, is the most talented and amazing woman I know, but she is the worst bowler on the planet! She once bowled a “6” game. That’s right; she knocked down a total of six pins in a game. When she bowls, we hope her fingers come out of the ball before it goes down the alley; and we hope she doesn’t drop the ball on her foot when picking it up. Her bowling draws spectators from as far away as Nevada!
No one enjoyed watching Nancy bowl more than my dad. He and my brothers would fall off the bench laughing when Nancy bowled. I, of course, was a great support and comfort to her at these times.
So at the Thanksgiving dinner table, we wait until dessert is served, then we visualize Nancy’s bowling days of yesteryear.; We laugh till we fall on the floor like my dad used to do, or we need another piece of pie, whatever comes first.
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.
With night coming early,
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.
The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.
C.S. Lewis from Reflections on the Psalms
"I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.”
My fondest memory of Thanksgiving as a child is of our annual trek to Fremont where we celebrated the holiday with my mother’s side of the family. We would drive the often snowy roads crushed together in the car, with a trunk full of pies, turkey and stuffing and my Mother’s plea to Dad to “please drive carefully.” We always gathered at the Fremont Foundation building, a wonderful old place with room for the meal, a stage on which the children could perform their afternoon play and a loft into which only the “older” boys could climb.
Those days are gone, but Thanksgiving is still a time to gather with loved ones. This year the gathering is at my home and, instead of worrying about planning the afternoon theatrical production as I did as a child, I worry about making sure there is enough food on the table and that everyone is comfortable and can sense how much I care about them. Most of all, though, I reflect on the blessings in my life— all of them countless gifts of love from God.
P.S. In case you’re wondering what the highlight will be at my Thanksgiving table, I believe it will be the pumpkin dessert that I’ve been making for 25 years.
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