by Hal Hamilton
What memories flood your mind at Thanksgiving? Mine are richer than the food we ate!
My teachers could never understand why my father, a college professor of all people, would pull me from class every single year as we got close to Thanksgiving. I didn’t mind. All I cared about was that we were headed for a road trip, adventures, who knows how many people at my grandparents’ house, awesome food and even better stories. Thanksgiving was when I lost my glasses because Uncle Eric suddenly decided we should know how to react in an emergency and capsized the boat. Thanksgiving was when my little brother got lost in Miami. At Thanksgiving I caught lizards, climbed a fire tower, and spotted alligators in the canal. I went coon hunting for the first time with Big Uncle John and Big Uncle Michael. I got lost. I canoed. I cut brush. I was given my first knife. I learned to shoot a pistol.
My grandfather had worked for the embassy for years and had a house better than any museum. We were in heaven in that house. Nobody ever believed it, but it didn’t matter. A stuffed piranha. A shrunken head. An eight-foot jaguar killed by a single pistol shot behind the left ear – “to give him a sporting chance” explained my grandfather. Never mind that jaguars are supposed to grow no bigger than six feet. In the wilds of Paraguay, this one didn’t get the memo. Old Spanish weaponry. Uruguayan leather. A commendation from President Grant.
The noises were wonderfully eclectic as well. The roar of laughter from Big Uncle John. The colorful arguments over the nuances of language, politics and religion. The exclamations of joy as someone else arrived unexpectedly for the holidays. And the stories. Oh, the stories. The competition, the color, the corrections, and the cornucopia of vibrant images painted by these artists of the spoken word. Were they all true? They seemed so much larger than life, but so did the characters telling them. Maybe they were the gospel after all. And the guitar, always the guitar. And deep, beautiful, voices made raspy through years of smoking singing the songs of the Old Country in Spanish. Later, as we grew up and began to bring our spouses, we added the flute with “Amazing Grace” and other hymns sung boldly and tearfully at the bonfire by men who hadn’t graced a church in decades.
The smells were out of this world, too. “Out, out of my kitchen!” This was my grandmother’s particular turf, although in some ways her turf had no boundaries. At 90, she went down the slide with her granddaughter in her lap and I have a picture of her on my computer straddling my grandfather’s motorcycle at about age 93. She had traveled around the world in high society, but also started a public library in a tiny unincorporated community at the intersection of a state highway and a county road. She fought for funding and permission to use an abandoned schoolhouse. She shopped yard sales and personally donated the books she found. And she staffed the library herself. She taught people to read and helped immigrants get ready for citizenship. She modeled hospitality and grace at its very finest. Embassy life was behind her, but there were many less fortunate who were recipients of her extravagant love. The door to her home, her heart and her fridge were always open.
My grandparents are gone now and we are making our own memories. But the backdrop will always be the smells and the noise, décor and love of Thanksgiving, Crocker style!
On Tuesday November 24th, some of our other contributors will share their thanksgiving traditions. Feel free to share your own on facebook or below in the comments section.
Hal Hamilton is the Youth and College Team leader at First United Methodist. He has five children and has been doing life and youth ministry with his wife Annamarie full-time since 1986. Hal loves basketball, soccer, mission, worship, teenagers and young adults, chocolate cheesecake and the Rocky Mountains. He has written for Seedbed.com, Relevant Magazine, Youthworker Journal, Abingdon Press and occasionally blogs at www.halhamilton.com.