JIM CREES: Thanksgiving: a time to give thanks

“The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving”. ~ H.U. Westermayer 

We have a lot to be thankful for as we head into the Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Some may not necessarily think so. For some folks, it may be a bit difficult to give thanks when things are still pretty rough economically speaking in this part of the country.

But giving thanks isn’t directly contingent on economic stability.

I remember ...

When I was a nine-year old kid, my dad was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He went into the hospital the same day.

Dad was sent to Herman Kiefer Sanitarium. One minute he was at home. The next minute he was quarantined in a hospital quite a way away from our homestead on the east side of Detroit.

My mom didn’t drive, and she didn’t work. We got very poor, very fast. It was tough, and even as a eight-year old kid I understood that things were tough.

The government assistance programs were much different than they are now. We didn’t get food stamps per se, we got chits for specific food items, and we got government surplus food.

Every month we went to the “poor store” where my mom picked up a gallon can of peanut butter, a huge elongated can of Spam, an absolutely monstrous sized chunk of American processed cheese, a huge can of white northern beans, and a giant box of powdered milk. We also got a chit to use at the Wonder Bread day-old bread store.

Then too, we got a lot of help from folks at our church - Knox Presbyterian in Detroit.

There were some good people there. Very good people. Kind and compassionate.

Friends of my folks joined together to teach my mom how to drive. (She got the theory down pretty quickly, but she never, EVER was a good driver!)

It was only when she got her license that we were able to pile into the car and visit my dad at the hospital. I think we went six weeks or so before we saw him after he was sent to the sanitarium.

We literally got to “see” him.

We couldn’t visit with him and we couldn’t touch, hug, or kiss him.

We would sit on the lawn outside his building and yell stuff back and forth as he sat in the window four stories up. (He later was moved to a third-story room and we thought that was wonderful.)

On my ninth birthday, my dad had a nurse toss my birthday present to me from his window. (He couldn’t pass anything to me directly. It was book about a kid and his dog.

I was nine. The book was about a first grade reading level. It didn’t matter. It was the best present I think I’d ever received. I kept that book for years, and years, and years.

Winter was a real problem. My mom was terrified to drive in winter. Even if we did make the haul over to the hospital, we couldn’t stand outside too long. It was simply too cold. So, we went long periods without really seeing my dad at all.

We could barely talk to him. This wasn’t the day and age of cellphones for all.

At home, we had Spam almost every meal. To this day, I find it hard to eat Spam or processed cheese.

Worse was the powdered milk. I’m sure it was healthy, but it didn’t taste healthy. It tasted like liquefied cardboard.

And then there were the holidays.

Folks from church brought food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a bundle of presents for all of us at Christmas.

For whatever nine-year old reason, that really made me mad.

I didn’t want them feeling sorry for us. I didn’t want their charity.

Mostly, I didn’t want to be poor.

In the middle of a Detroit winter, our furnace literally blew up. There was no house fire, but we ended up with no heat.

The church community paid for the repair.

I remember it was summertime when we got the word my dad would be coming home.

My older brother got so excited he did a backflip off the sofa. He hit his head on the radiator and had to be taken to the hospital for stitches.

After dad came home, it wasn’t long before he went back to work. Things got back to normal pretty quickly, and pretty quickly I was taking all the good we had in our lives for granted once again.

But there was always a reminder of when things were tough.

While my dad was in the hospital, he used to pass the time by making all sort of things out of popsicle sticks - lamps, purses, jewelry boxes ...all kinds of things.

For himself, he crafted a plaque about ten inches long and five inches high. It hung above his bed all the time he was in Herman Kiefer. Using a Zippo lighter and a safety pin, he had carefully burned his own Thanksgiving theme into the plaque.

It read:

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and your burden will be light.”

I still have that plaque at home.

Happy Thanksgiving ...even when things get tough and your burden seems so, so heavy. Happy