Even with the passage of 45 years, the day's events have not paled, nor has their sorrow.
Oh, but I'm so far ahead of myself. Let me begin again.
The aroma of morning in my mother's house was always inviting, and never more than on Thanksgiving Day. Something savory heralded the holiday, and it always included the collective scents of simmering giblets, nutmeg & cinnamon, homemade bread, baking turkey, and something I could never quite put my finger on. No matter. It was the aroma of the familiar and the familial.
The year was 1964, and I was 16.
Family always arrived early: my sisters and their husbands and children; my uncle and his lady friend, Mrs. Foley; and sometimes others too. This year included my then boyfriend/now husband, Terry. The house was happiest when it was filled to the rafters, especially when the little ones scurried under foot.
It had been a long year, 1964 - and Thanksgiving arrived with somber hues and tones. Our hearts, filled to the brim with gratitude for all things blessed, were also filled with something less joyful: dread. For many days we'd been stealing ourselves for the inevitable.
For well over a year my father - daddy - had warred fiercely with an enemy called leukemia. It's virulent, relentless and pitiless assault made no show of retreat. But oh what a battle daddy gave it! As if armored and mounted, he rode headlong into the foray; sometimes daily. Battle weary and battle scarred, he never gave up fighting. I can't recall him having even a moment of complaint or self-pity.
But by Thanksgiving it was obvious that daddy's days of warring were nearing their end. Frail, bruised, pale ... just taking a breath had become a day's labor.
As the holiday unfolded a light snow began to fall. It was unusually glorious, and I remember, even now, having such conflicted feelings about it. My initial thoughts were of bundling to go sledding, while my secondary thoughts were of how cruel it was that such beauty would mock my family; mock me.
Daddy lay quiet on the couch throughout the day as family gathered and gabbed and giggled, and dinner was served. He could hardly sit now, and his periods of wakefulness had lessened. As dinner ended, I sensed from the hushed whispers that something wasn't right. Seems he's taken a turn for the worse, and an ambulance had been summoned. Mother's worried face told the story, as did her call to action: It's time.
To this day I remember following behind that ambulance by car, the gently falling snow blurring the red rotating light of the ambulance, and muffling it's siren - the surreal and the serene co-mingling. My heart pounded, not certain if it was fear or hope that compelled the thumping. I longed to hurry, then longed to slow it all down.
My father would never again return home.
Once hospitalized, Daddy remained with us a few more days, until December 4, when at last he stepped into the presence of his Lord, Jesus. He went gently and quietly during the early morning hours ... no doubt the time he'd have risen to head out for some good trout fishing.
One evening, shortly after he was admitted to the hospital and while he was still lucid, we girls were summoned. My father had called us together to say goodbye. With courage, tears and great heart he spoke of his love for us, and for our mother. He was ready, and he wanted us to be to as well.
Thanksgiving conflicts me still. Yet somehow I've come to appreciate the grand legacy attached to it. What tears it engenders are tears of pride, of precious memories, of thankfulness. What better way to begin the counting of blessings.