Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year, but it seems now to become lost in the commercialization of the whole holiday season, as does Christmas. So, I'd like to propose that we each pause now for a moment or two, to simply be thankful for all that we have, especially family and friends, be they near or far.
As a child growing up we always spent Thanksgiving on my maternal grandparent's farm. It was located northwest of Leavenworth, Kansas, across rolling hills, through the small town of Easton, close to a white wooden Lutheran church where my parents were married, and down a half-mile dirt road to the farm.
My mother was born there, on the farm, growing up during the Great Depression. In wintertime, when it did snow, she actually walked five miles to school and back again. Growing up without electricity, which they didn't have until after WWII. She was married by then, with their first child on the way.
My father, a WWII Veteran, worked at the local VA Hospital just south of Leavenworth, as a surgical technician, and then at the federal penitentiary. When they got married the local paper wrote that she'd be a doctor's wife one day. She was eventually, although not the wife of a M.D., when years later my father completed his undergraduate degree, then a M.Div., and eventually a PhD in marriage and family counseling from the Texas Medical Center ~ Texas Women's University in Houston. He was a practicing psychotherapist and counsellor for over forty years, and an ordained Methodist minister for fifty plus years.
We all loved going to the farm, surrounded and loved by family, our parents of course, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and first cousins. There were two wood burning stoves in the farmhouse. A pot bellied stove sitting by a wall in the middle of the living room, and one in the kitchen you could heat water on, or actually cook on if you had a mind to do that.
My family, our folks, two sisters, and one brother, would drive out to the farm on Thanksgiving morning. It wasn't too far, about an hours drive or less from where we lived in the suburbs of Greater Kansas City, where my father served as the senior minister at Valley View United Methodist Church from the early to mid-1960s.
I can close my eyes today and go back to the farm, back to sitting on my grandfather's lap, when I was young enough to still do that and back to a warm kitchen that smelled of turkey and ham, gravy and mashed potatoes, green been casserole, cranberry sauce, wood smoke, and a host of other good smells. I can hear the voices of my grandparents still, my father's voice certainly, and aunts and uncles, and cousins now separated by life and death. The memories are still there, still strong enough within me, forming a core identity we all carry from our childhood days.
I am no longer that child; I haven't been in decades of life. But, that child still lives within me too, he always will as long as I am living this life here and now. We all gather strength from the good memories of our childhood, for some people it is a place of safety, if you grew up in a safe secure home. We did, in looking back, I realize more than ever that even if we didn't have much in material things, we were rich in family. And so this tradition continues today with my family. In a few hours I will gather with my mom who is still with us, and all of my siblings and their families.
I’ll get to hug them all, from the youngest, my great niece, to the oldest, my mom. Who at eighty-six is doing amazingly well, and has befriended some of you on Facebook. She, as far as I know, was the first poet in our immediate family. And if I can, if she will let me, I'll share some of her poems with you one day. In the meantime, let me share this one poem with you; as an image of who I was then, in that time. It's one of the poems we will be reading at the December 5th Saint Julian Press event, next Friday night.
I took my wife Joanne to the airport very early this morning, she's visiting her eight siblings in Chicago and will return home Saturday evening. We'll miss you Jo, and in all our years together I think this is the first Thanksgiving we will be apart, all my love to you too. The house is a bit empty without you here.
Many Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.
Saint Julian Press
Mom in the middle, with my grandparents, aunt and uncle, late 1940s before any children came along.
When I Was a Boy
when i was a boy
it was easy for me to imagine
living the cowboy life, like John Wayne
somewhere in Kansas
which is where i was born and mostly raised
or even further out west among the mesas and cactus
southwest of home by only a few hundred miles
my imagination ran rowdy in those days
we lived in the far suburbs of Kansas City
but on the close edge of a cultivated countryside
where small farms and ranches
were stretched and scattered between subdivisions
creeks and stream beds were our favorite play fellows
they were the wild companions and places of our childhood
and of my heart i believe still
there was a small field i once walked by on occasion
where two horses grazed, and where
i would often stop to say hello, they weren’t shy at all
about galloping up to the fence, anxious for me
to pet their broad foreheads and dive deeply into the
the black pools of their pupils
where sunlight and stars floated forever
speaking out loud with a neigh and a nod
whispering horse sense to my ear
my maternal grandfather and grandmother were farm folk
all their life, wedded to the land and the changing seasons
the rhythm of their lives guided
by the movement of earth and moon
and Sunday morning church at St. John’s Lutheran
where relatives and neighbors gathered weekly, some still do
i can still see my grandmother’s face and her secret smile
like Mona Lisa’s, knowing more than any child may imagine
and her soft loving eyes, wise with wonder for the world
her hands bent with arthritis, but never a complaint
as she snapped snap beans for dinner
or kneaded dough for bread
i can still taste the delight of those farm days
especially the strawberries and shortcake in summer
vine ripe juicy tomatoes exploding with flavor
into the back of your mouth and throat
and i can still see my grandfather too, so clearly even now
his hands especially, so strong and so sure
calloused from years of work on the farm, but so very gentle
i can remember as a small child, crawling up on his lap
as he sat in his rocking chair by a pot bellied stove, truly
and how he held each of us in turn,
all his grandchildren, joyfully patient
eyes twinkling like some dime store Santa
even though he was bald and beardless
wearing blue jean overalls with
brass buttons and snaps we’d play with
there was no safer place in the entire world you know
Wheels Turning Inward by Ron Starbuck
Hardcover: 136 pages
Publisher: FriesenPress (August 26, 2010)
Ron Starbuck is an author, poet, the Publisher-CEO of Saint Julian Press, and an Episcopalian.