No other nation celebrates Thanksgiving Day as we do. The Pilgrims gave thanks for having found their new life. The Indians, who never had seen the likes of those early settlers, shared their bounty with the new arrivals. But underlying this festival of thanks was the recognition that God gives us His blessings every day and deserves our thanks.
I hope readers of this commentary had as wonderful a Thanksgiving as I did. It was out of central casting. My wife, Joyce, who had prepared for last Thursday for days, was up working before the crack of dawn. She was almost childlike in her bubbly enthusiasm for Thanksgiving despite the fact that she did most of the work. She cooked non-stop until early in the afternoon when my son Steve, his wife, Emily, and their four children arrived. We have eight other grandchildren by two married daughters but distance and illness kept their families away. One daughter and son-in-law live in Okinawa, where they gave thanks with others stationed at the Air Force Base there. The oldest of their four boys, at the least, always should remember this Thanksgiving. My other daughter and son-in-law planned to travel to Richmond, where his relatives reside but, alas, two of their children got mighty sick. They could neither make the trip to Richmond nor come to our home.
While both families greatly were missed, there sometimes are hidden blessings. Had all twelve grandchildren celebrated Thanksgiving with us the grandchildren would have been pre-occupied with one another. They wouldn’t have known that adults were around. Not so on this Thanksgiving at our home.
The day before Thanksgiving Joyce had reminded me that our oldest grandson, eight-year-old Matthew, was not interested in trains and that although I had a newly improved train layout in the train room I was not to pressure him into staying there. The train room was built for my son Andrew, who was in the seventh grade when we moved into our beautiful newly built home. He liked to spend time with his dad either riding the real trains or running the model trains. Alas, once Andrew entered high school he was so busy with activities that he had no time for trains. The train room sadly was neglected for many years. Then the grandchildren were born.
A couple of years ago Joyce encouraged me to re-open the train room downstairs. My infirmities no longer permitted me to crawl under the layout doing wiring and operating the system. The control board was in the middle of the layout and required one to navigate the floor to reach the set-up. Thanks to family friend John Gallagher the train layout was redesigned for me to operate it. In recent months John created a passage so the trains could travel through the wall into the unfinished part of the basement, exiting from a newly constructed mountain.
Meanwhile, we also had obtained a hockey game where players challenged each other to score goals. We were certain that would interest Matthew. Surely enough, Steve, Emily and the children weren’t in the door three minutes when the children said, “Let’s go downstairs.”
In addition to the train room and my home office, there is a large toy room containing everything with which both girls and boys can play by themselves. There are little tables filled with puzzles and coloring books. There is a little car run by batteries which goes round and round a track to the tune of entertaining music. There are dolls and games and a miniature train set. There is a basketball hoop hung low enough so that the smaller children can practice. There are enough toys and games to keep the grandchildren occupied for hours, if not days. It is one of the favorite rooms to which all of the grandchildren repair once they are situated in our home.
Matthew and I began a game of hockey. Matthew’s younger brother, Mikey, came to help. The girls, Sarah and Katie, soon came down and occupied themselves with their favorite toys. A few minutes into the hockey game Matthew surprised me by saying “Let’s go play with the trains.” I figured he would play with the trains for a few minutes before joining his father and his uncles Peter and Andrew in watching Thanksgiving Day football. Instead Matthew donned his engineer’s hat, which his grandmother had furnished for all the male grandchildren. I began to operate the trains and showed him a new tram line serving the monastery atop the mountain. The tram line required a separate transformer which Matthew could operate by himself. To my pleasant shock and surprise he loved that. Indeed he loved the whole set-up.
I have a destination roll sign hanging from the ceiling. I had stolen it at age twelve from the Cold Springs yard of the Milwaukee streetcar system. My buddy Harold Fink and I got caught but the guard said I could keep the roll sign provided I never gain would set foot in the yard. (I had argued the roll sign merely was from a streetcar which was about to be scarped.) I kept my promise for a decade and returned to the yard at a reporter covering transit stories.
My father, a skilled carpenter, made a wooden case for the roll call sign. The wooden case allowed the sign to be turned from destination to destination as it had been in the window of the streetcar. Matthew jumped up on a chair and began to change the destinations. He did so every few minutes between tending to his own tram line or running to the unfinished part of the basement to watch the trains as they came and went through the holes in the wall or helping his grandfather identify the switches. John had finished the layout Thanksgiving morning and I had yet to operate it. Matthew and I worked the trains for nearly three hours. I have to tell you, I haven’t had such a good time since I don’t know when. We would have played longer with the trains but dinner was ready.
For the first time instead of a being assigned to a separate children’s table, the Weyrich grandchildren sat at the adult table. I gave thanks for God’s only begotten Son who became man to save us for all eternity. I gave thanks for our wonderful family. We are incredibly blessed. All five of our children and our three in-laws fervently believe that church and prayers are a must. I gave thanks for this country, which despite its faults, remains the country of choice for much of the world. I gave thanks that we could worship as we pleased and could express our views without fear of imprisonment.
What an incredible dinner Joyce and Steve (who cooked the turkey and a duck) and Emily made for all of us. Five-year-old Mikey, in addition to behaving like the family adults, asked Joyce twice if she would promise to make a certain dish “every Thanksgiving.” The four Weyrich grandchildren did very well and justified our decision to have them sit with us. We had only ten this Thanksgiving Day - six adults and four children. Our dining room table to seat twelve was the correct place for all of us to be seated. After days of preparation and hours of cooking, the meal was over in an hour. What a feast it was. How wonderful it was that we could be together at our home and not lined up at a soup kitchen. We helped with that good work financially and we salute those who gave of themselves so that others might share in our bounty. Our son Peter recounted his experience volunteering at a soup kitchen one Thanksgiving and how good it felt to volunteer.
Steve, Emily and the children departed soon after dinner to meet some of Emily’s relatives who were visiting from California. Andrew and Peter and I engaged in a prolonged discussion about the meaning of the End Times. I could not help but think how blessed am I that I could have such an intelligent, intense discussion on a subject about which many are either unfamiliar or choose to ignore.
By the end of the day the kitchen appeared to have been through Hurricane Katrina. It was worth the effort because there is so much for which to be thankful. God has blessed me far more than I deserve. The world is filled with tragedies and problems. I concern myself daily with many of those matters. Occasionally those matters are put aside for family. As an only child who had few relatives, my Thanksgivings were not festive. Joyce’s family regularly traveled to her grandmother’s house for that special day. That experience continues to invoke in Joyce warm and endearing feelings. I am certain that we created memories this Thanksgiving for part of our family. However much more time the Almighty grants us I hope we always will have a place which will conjure up those good feelings in our grandchildren long after we are gone. Thank you, Dear Lord, for making this Thanksgiving Day possible.