Remember the days of old; consider generations long past. – Deuteronomy 32:7 (NIV)
I don’t know if you picked up on it, but last week my heart just wasn’t in composing my traditional Thanksgiving column. The key word in that last sentence is “traditional.”
Our Thanksgiving traditions were, once again, changing, and not of our own doing or choice.
Growing up, my husband and I had different Thanksgiving traditions. While he spent the day with a whole clan of relatives, enjoying Grandma’s pies — and she baked plenty and a variety — I spent the day quietly reading while my mother, who shooed everyone out of the kitchen, prepared a turkey dinner for just the five of us. If any relative stopped in, it was for only a few minutes. We certainly never went anywhere on Thanksgiving Day.
Fast forward 20 years. Now married with my own family, I wanted to begin a new tradition: We hosted Thanksgiving dinner and invited Dean’s parents, and his sister and her family.
By then my own family was scattered. My brother and sister, both out-of-state, had established their own Thanksgiving traditions. My father had passed away, and my mother was grappling with Alzheimer’s Disease.
This tradition ran its cycle until our three children grew up. I never wanted them to feel obligated to come home for the holidays but rather to establish their own traditions. After all, isn’t that what we raise them for? To live their own lives, to make their own mark in their corner of the world.
But we still celebrated the day with some of our ever-growing family. I didn’t have to cook the entire meal any longer — just bring a dish or two — and that was just fine by me.
Then life changed. Again. This year we faced spending the day by ourselves. I realize there are those for whom Thanksgiving (and any other holiday) is “just another day.” But we didn’t want it to be that way for us. We have too many good memories of Thanksgiving past.
So my husband suggested something unusual: take the day and visit the cemeteries where our parents and grandparents are buried — to thank them for what they contributed to our lives.
And with our oldest son accompanying us, that’s what we did. On Thanksgiving Day, we drove 246 miles, stopped at six cemeteries, and visited our forebears — his parents and grandparents, buried in Jefferson County, and my parents and godparents in the Mon Valley (near Donora). We reminisced — even our son had memories of these precious folks, even though I’d thought he was too young to remember.
We drove through two cemeteries where my grandparents are buried. I didn’t know exactly where their graves were, but just driving through was like a trip down memory lane, my mind and heart making connections I’d avoided making for far too long.
No, it wasn’t morbid. It was enlightening. And freeing.
Connecting with our past, touching base with our heritage, we realized how truly blessed we are. We are what we are because of what they were and what they did.
Seeing those gravestones gave us not a sense of loss or finality, but of continuity and hope. We are, we realized, the connection between the past and the future.
“We should note the days of old. They are what mold us.” (Curt Lovelace, “Memorializing the Past, A Practice in Remembering God’s Goodness”)
Who knows? Maybe we started a new tradition: The Thanksgiving Day Cemetery Run.
Thank you, Father God, for reminding us of the rich heritage we have. Help us to pass along that legacy to our children and grandchildren. May they, too, comprehend the continuity of life. Amen.
Extra tea: Read and meditate on Joshua 4:1–7