When we were kids, Thanksgiving Day was very special. This was a time when all the family would be together, some coming from far off places arriving with open arms for hugging and rejoicing. It was a fun time. The turkey was ready for carving, the potatoes were mashed, gravy was thick and the veggies lined the table. Pies and cakes were there for the taking. The old and the young, all gathered in one big circle and the patriarch led the thanksgiving prayer. The young kids were told to go and play and that they would be called when room was made at the table for them. There were times when we were allowed to fix our own plates and go out and eat under the huge pine tree, or just down by the lake. After the belly filling experience we were up and ready for an afternoon filled with sheer joy.
Most everything was homemade, including our games. Boys and girls divided and the call for the day was just have fun. The sandlot was filled, the sawdust bags ready. “Play ball” was called. The older men served as umpires and the little kids as bat boys. This was big time stuff and we just went at it with abandon.
Thanksgiving today is somewhat different. Some of our young men and women are in a far off country fighting a war. Time alone will tell the real meaning of this sacrifice. Freedom is never free, and Americans through the ages have paid for the privilege and freedom we enjoy with their very lives.
Looking through some old papers, I found a letter from a mother to her son on Thanksgiving Day – year 1864. Randolph Helm was coming home from four years in the confederate army. He was just twelve years old when he left home to fight for General Lee. Having known war too young and too long, he had a ‘dark bitterness’ in his soul. Fifty-five years later, this same letter was read again when Randolph’s nephew returned from World War I. It was read a third time when a member of the family returned from Iwo Jima and Okinawa in WW II. These words of wisdom and thanksgiving are as fresh today as they were when first written 140 years ago. As your family gathers to celebrate another Thanksgiving day, take time to read it slowly and carefully. Paul wrote, “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
” I’m glad you’re coming home. You’ll make it in time for spring plowing. If General Lee offers you a mule, don’t be proud you take it.
What makes you think I won’t remember you? If you’d been away 50 years I’d remember. I don’t reckon you eat your vittles any different when you’re hungry and still squirm when you say your prayers as if you got fire in your pants.
You got a deal of bitterness stored up in you for 16 years. Yes, people lied and cheated and sold each other out, but they been doing that since the days of Eden. Just you see you don’t waste your time hating ’em. You see, they never laid in ditches covered with water till they wondered if all the world was under water. They never froze till they wondered if all the fire in the world had burned out. They never waiting in the dark of night till they wondered if all the lights in the world had blown out. They never starved and thirsted and froze and hated and burned and willed to die for something they believed in. These things they never done and you must be easy on ’em.
Now, as I told you before, God’s still up there where He’s always been, and He’ll have his way, you watch.
I’m standing now at the window looking out at the stars. Just you and God and me. I’ll put your hand in His, and I’m saying a prayer. I’ll write it out so’s as you’ll Know. (He don’t need to have it writ.)
God, here is my son. I’m giving thanks to You for him. But don’t you be too easy on ‘im because he’s fit a war and lost an arm; he mustn’t get to thinking his work on earth is done. He’s young and don’t know that work does a lot of healing and so does forgiving. His dark bitterness won’t get him nothing. So You hold his hand, will You, till he finds the light?
Now, I say to you my son, good night.” Your mother, Nancy Helm.
Now, a hundred and forty years later, may we dedicate this marvelous letter of Thanksgiving to all our loved ones, who are home with us around the family table, and those who are separated from us by time and space.
God bless you all and Happy Thanksgiving Day.