Thanksgiving is almost here. As families gather and join together to eat and share memories and make new ones, I'm thinking about people that are no longer in my life. So often we go about our busy schedules, working, cleaning, shopping, just the hustle and bustle of living and we forget to appreciate those around us until it's too late and they are no longer with us.
Thanksgiving, when I was a kid, was a huge affair. My paternal grandparents had six children that survived to adulthood that then started families of their own and everyone got together at Thanksgiving and Christmas. As a child, these were glorious times of Aunty Mary's Baked Beans, Uncle Ed's Buttermilk Pancakes, and laughter, games, and cozy laps. By the time I was in junior high, these gatherings had gotten smaller. Nana and Papa came to our house on Thanksgiving and the rest of the relatives would stop by throughout the day to share dessert, chat, and play board games. Nana and Papa, my dad's parents, are both gone now and for some reason, I'm especially missing them and some other family members this year.
Nana was the oldest sister in a family of three girls. Her name was Leola and her younger sisters were Virginia (Aunt Ginny) and Lynn (Aunt Lynn). Her mother died shortly after Lynn was born, so it was up to her to be the influential female in the house. Pictures of my Nana when she was younger still have the power to silence me and take me back to a time when women were ladies. She was stunning on her wedding day in August 1929. She was 18.
Papa was the youngest in his family. His name was Henry and his siblings were Alma, Emil, Ernest, Emma, and George. (And I feel like I'm forgetting someone!) He was devastatingly handsome with his red hair combed straight back, as was the style at the dawn of a new decade. He was 20 when he married Leola.
They soon were the parents to four girls, Margaret, Henrietta, Mary Ann, and Jeannette. One month before their first son and my dad John was born, Henrietta died at the age of 8. There is one picture that exists of Henrietta and she is an adorable tom boy of a girl with short dark hair and dancing eyes. I would have liked to see the woman she became, but GOD needed her more. After my dad was born in 1940, two more children were added to the family, Clara and James.
By the time I was born in 1967, I already had 10 older cousins, but I was to be the only baby in the family for nearly four years until a brother and another female cousin were born. Then more siblings and cousins were added to my family. As our family grew, so did the bonds that connect me to these people. Aunty Marg, my dad's oldest sister, was like a second mom to me and she doted on me because she had two sons and no daughters. We were incredibly close as I grew up and she would sew her own house dresses, always making sure to make a tiny version so we could match.
Aunty Jeannette lived far away with Uncle Pete and their two girls, Sandra and Tina, and later on, their son Shane. We would visit them wherever Uncle Pete was pastoring a church and I always had so much fun. I remember visiting Hanford, California and swimming in a backyard pool. When we visited them in the Mojave Desert we visited Red Rock Canyon, the ghost town of Calico, and played with red ants in the front yard.
Aunty Mary and Uncle Melvin provided me with my first playmates and closest childhood friends. There were three girls (Leola, Margaret, or Markie, and Doris) and three boys (Bill, Stan, and Edward) in this family. I was closest to the two youngest girls, Markie and Doris, and we spent hours playing games outside and board games inside. The stories we could tell!
Aunty Clara was the silly aunt that never grew up and we could all count on her to give us the candy and toys our parents didn't really want us to have. (Some things never change!) She was married to Uncle Bill and they would follow the fruit crops in Oregon, sending me letters of their adventures. Uncle Bill had tattoos! He smoked! He looked like Waylon Jennings! And I thought he was the coolest man around, next to my dad.
Uncle James is the only brother my dad has. He lives in Oregon with his wife Donna. They had three kids when I was younger; Mitzi and her two brothers Jamie and Jereme. They have since adopted three other children, but we rarely see them. I am closest to Mitzi of these children. And she and I used to be so much closer even though she only lives a half hour away from me. I miss her.
Of these family members, Nana was the first to die. She went to be with Jesus, carried in to heaven by thousands of angels in May of 1987. I had no idea how much she meant to me, truly meant to me, until I became a mother myself and realized the influence she had on my life. She was the strongest woman I have ever known and though she could be harsh at times, she loved fiercely and had a faith that moved mountains.
Our family was so blessed, we didn't lose another family member until my Papa died on August 30, 2005. He was 96 and though I wish I could still sit and listen to him tell stories of long ago, I wouldn't trade the experience of being with him as he drew some of his last breaths. Talking about seeing my Nana, his beautiful bride, as he passed from this life to the next is something I will cherish for as long as I live.
Since Papa joined Nana in heaven, Uncle Bill has joined them. He confessed Jesus as his savior at the end and that is a blessing indeed. Aunty Marg is now reunited with her parents, and her dear sister. Uncle Melvin has also made his way to heaven and I'm sure they are all having a grand time walking the streets of gold, talking with their loved ones that went on before, and sitting at the feet of Jesus.
It's thought-provoking to be my age. I feel more confident and self-assured than I did in my 20's and 30's, but I also see the people I looked up to and those that I turned to for guidance reaching ages when they are losing some of their independence and self-assuredness. It's sad at times. And yet, I have so much to be thankful for. I am the person I am today because of the influence of each and every one of my family members. I hope that those younger than me; the second and third cousins, the nieces and nephews, will realize that family truly is a gift from GOD and not something to be squandered or divided by situations and words that just steal the joy of one another's company.