Time for a heart-warming Thanksgiving story, don’t you think?
“Thanksgiving Dinner With My Family” ©2010 Daven Anderson
The warmth of the first sun beam through our bedroom window awakens me on a beautiful Thanksgiving morning. My wife Theresa is beside me, her blonde hair lit in a gentle glow. Still in peaceful sleep, her face beams with an angel’s countenance. Our cat Furball massages my leg with his front paws.
I can hear our daughter Britney, her partner Anita and Anita’s daughter Carmen grabbing dishes in the kitchen. Britney’s a little brat before she has her coffee. And, as I love to tease her, she’s a little brat after she’s had her coffee. She doesn’t mind my affectionate jesting. Britney is a charming young adult woman. Gifted with the beauty of her mother and her dad’s often-twisted sense of humor.
Our family has so much to be thankful for. The least we can do is to help those less fortunate than us. To give them something they can be thankful for on this holiday. This is why we’ll be spending several hours at the Denver Rescue Mission, serving Thanksgiving meals to the homeless.
First of all, I’m thankful that I have this warm bed to lie in. Second, I’m lucky that Theresa, the love of my life, is sharing this bed with me. Most of all, I’m thankful that we have our daughter. Britney is an only child, our little miracle. Long ago, the experts told Theresa she was infertile. We proved them wrong when we at last conceived our bundle of joy. Our only sadness is that we could not give Britney the siblings she once wanted so badly. It used to break our hearts to see Britney clutching her baby doll, asking us when she’d have a new baby brother or sister to play with.
Now Britney is an adult. She understands all too well what her mom and I went through, because Britney has inherited her mother’s condition. The experts say it will be a miracle if Britney can bear us a grandchild. We pray for that miracle.
Maria, our granddaughter in spirit, knocks on our bedroom door and says, “Your coffee is ready.”
Miracles do happen. Not just Britney, but Maria. Britney’s partner Anita also suffers from the same fertility problem as our family, yet Anita managed to bring her daughter Carmen into the world.
Theresa and I rise from the bed and don our robes. The smell of fresh-brewed coffee wafts in from the hallway. I pick up Furball and stroke his chin, taking delight in his loud purr.
Furball leads us into the kitchen. Britney has prepared a plate of his food, and she lowers it to the floor as we walk in.
Britney says, “Hi, Mom and Dad,” and kisses our cheeks. Two cups await us at the table. She knows her mom and I are big brats before we’ve had our coffee. Britney and Anita seek to do more than simply serve food to those in line at the Denver Rescue Mission. Our ambitious daughter and her partner want to find a real homeless family to share in our Thanksgiving dinner. Not a family in the shelter, but a family living outside in the harsh winter cold. The people we serve in the shelter every Thanksgiving always tell us sad stories about the families out there who couldn’t get space in one of the shelters.
We invited one such family here last year. That particular dinner didn’t go very well. The family all bolted out the front door and ran down the block screaming, creating quite a scene.
Two police officers paid a visit our house that night. The cops didn’t believe any of those wild accusations the homeless family made. That’s what the family got for having foilies in their pockets. Evidence of meth use destroyed their credibility as witnesses, even though none of them were high at the time.
Britney was cracking up those cops by yelling, “Get the spiders off of me.” Cops know meth users’ paranoia all too well. Meth heads are always afraid something is going to bite them.
Every Thanksgiving, Britney looks forward to our family cruise in “Das Boat”. We’ve loaded the old wagon’s cargo area with boxes of pumpkin pie donated by our local grocery store’s bakery manager. Too bad we can’t make the pies from scratch, but we’ll have enough cooking to do at the Rescue Mission.
Anita starts up her Subaru. Carmen waves to us as her mom drives away. Anita will meet us at the mission. Maria will have lunch with her grandparents while we serve meals to the homeless.
Britney opens the door of my old car and slides across the bench seat. “The bitch seat,” she says. Her radiant smile is the the polar opposite of bitchy. She loves to sit between Mom and Dad, like she did in the old days. A simple pleasure denied her in new cars with their fancy bucket seats.
Theresa gets in, and off we go. I touch the gas pedal very slowly. I can’t drive like Johnny Hot-Rodder unless I want to start an accidental pie fight inside the car. I have to drive gingerly the one day a year my old car is inundated with the wonderful smell of the pies’, ahem, ginger spice.
Some would wonder why a family like us who don’t attend church services would volunteer at the Denver Rescue Mission. Well, Theresa and I are not total strangers to faith in Christ Our Lord. We were raised in the faith long ago.
John 6:54-56: Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
Raising Britney has been the most challenging test of our faith. Not just in the Lord, but in each other, as a family. Britney never took the faith to her heart. Why would she? Many so-called “Christians” would say that our precious daughter is hell-bound. They don’t understand that she was born the way she is. They decry her behavior as a wicked lifestyle choice.
Britney’s partner Anita has also suffered the slings and arrows of judgment. Anita was beaten by her ex-husband when he found out her true nature. He disowned their daughter Carmen as being nothing but a hell-spawn demon.
Theresa and I know better. The Lord gives each of us the innate wisdom to look beyond dogma and literalism. God also gives us the choice to use this wisdom. Or not.
Romans 3:23: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
This is why we’re en-route to the Denver Rescue Mission. We are not perfect. We are sinners. But when it comes to those in need, we “walk the walk” rather than “talking the talk.”
Jesus fed the five thousand. Those of us volunteering today will feed thousands more. Britney loves to see the most hardened, world-weary faces brighten when she hands them a slice of pumpkin pie. In those moments, what she is doesn’t matter. It’s what she does that means so much to those people.
I’ve dropped off Theresa, Britney and the pie boxes at the mission. There’s a parking lot on the left. Eight dollars all day. Good enough. Anita’s car is here already. I struggle with the steering wheel once I find a space. They didn’t make these parking spaces for old twenty-foot-long land yachts. This lot was made for compacts like Anita’s Subaru. Not cars that can hold three adults and 192 pumpkin pies.
I stroll the couple of blocks towards the mission. The line is already growing, and it’s only nine A.M. Theresa and Britney will be in the kitchen, preparing the turkeys to be served during the dinner shift. Even from here, I can smell the first batch of turkeys cooking.
So many sad, hard faces in the line, waiting for the first meal at noon. Worn-out clothes and worn-out facial expressions. Children’s pleading eyes, matched only by the desperation of their parents. Only the thought of our family serving them food in a few hours keeps me from shedding a waterfall of tears.
A white produce truck backs in the alley behind the mission. Once it stops, I head for the entrance. Dozens of volunteers pace the kitchen area, dedicated to their tasks. Britney spots me and waves me over to one of the turkey preparation tables, where she and her mother are hard at work.
We work in this area every Thanksgiving. Britney removes the giblets. Theresa and I are making dressing. Anita prepares trays of rolls for the ovens. Just as we all did last year.
Here, it doesn’t matter who we are. What’s important is the work we do. Volunteers from all walks of life, united to end hunger for at least this day. To give even the most destitute something to be thankful for. Not just food, but the offer of a helping hand. Help to get off the streets and live in dignity.
Twelve noon. The serving line is open. Our family begins the good work. I dole out slice after slice of turkey, watching all the sad faces turn happy as they smell the fresh meat. After I put the turkey on their plates, they move toward Anita, who’s ladling out dressing. Theresa is serving rolls. Britney hands each person a plate with a slice of pumpkin pie.
My wife and daughter are like two peas in a pod. Matching ponytails, red aprons, and smiles. I marvel at Britney’s sheer joy in this day. She hands little plastic toys to the kids, warming my heart as much as theirs.
I am so thankful to see my daughter beaming with happiness. Britney had some difficulties growing up, because of what she is. She’s given to episodes of rage that scare people to the core of their being. We’ve tried the normal medications, none of which work very well.
The sound of breaking plates startles me. Britney dropped a tray. Uh oh. Anita gives me a worried glance. Britney starts to tremble with manic rage. No. Not here. Theresa, Anita and I drop our serving tools and run to embrace Britney. We hide her face from the crowd’s view, because we can’t let anyone see her like this.
A few seconds later, Britney calms down. “I’m okay, Dad.” Her tear-stained face returns to normal.
After all are served in this shift, Theresa and I walk to the dining room. Britney and Anita trot up to meet us. “Mom, Dad,” Britney says, “We have a good lead on a family. They can’t come here because the dad came in here one day, drunk and disruptive. Even the other homeless people I’ve talked to say they pity this family.”
“Did you get directions?” I ask.
“Yeah. They’re living under a highway bridge up north.”
“Great,” says Theresa, “We’ll drive there and pick them up.”
“I’ll go with you and Dad,” Britney says.
“I’ll pick up Carmen and meet you back at your place,”
A half hour later, Theresa, Britney and I are in our old station wagon, driving on an empty back road.
Britney says, “I think that’s the bridge.”
“There,” Theresa points to a jumble of cardboard, “That must be them.”
I park the car. The three of us walk carefully through the trash-strewn area, dodging broken bottles and needles.
A rough-hewn woman emerges, asking “Are you case workers?”
“No, ma’am,” I answer, “We’re a family. We just got done serving meals at the mission.”
“The mission,” the gap-toothed man mumbles as he crawls out. “They’re bible-thumpers, gonna save us for Jesus.”
“No, no,” Theresa says, “We’re not here to feed you gospel. We want you to join us for a Thanksgiving meal, in our house.”
Their teenage son stumbles out and asks “What’s the catch?”
“No catch,” Britney says, “Just get in our car, and we’ll go eat.”
“Do you have wine?” the dad asks.
I fetch a flask of Thunderbird from my jacket pocket.
“Jesus didn’t turn the water into soda pop,” I hand him the bottle, “Relax. We didn’t come here to make judgements about you.” The man takes a swig, then hands the bottle to his wife.
Theresa says, “Judge not, lest ye not be judged.”
“Now that’s the kind of Christian I like,” the man says.
The mom finishes her turn and hands me the bottle. The teenage boy’s stare pleads with me.
“Oh, go ahead,” I hand him the bottle. “I’m not checking your I.D.”
Theresa motions them toward our wagon. “Shall we?” she asks.
“What, and leave this luxurious abode behind?” the man replies. We all laugh.
Britney, Theresa and I sit ourselves in the wagon. The man, woman and teenage son get in the back seat.
“Look at all that chrome on the dashboard,” the woman says.
“This is bigger than the apartment we had,” her son replies.
I tell them, “We hauled 192 nine-inch pumpkin pies to the mission this morning.”
“Those were from the grocery store,” Theresa says, “We’ll serve you our real homemade pie.” Britney smiles.
A half hour later, we’re home. Anita and Carmen reheated the turkey we cooked last night. We escort the homeless family inside. Furball is asleep in the living room’s window sill.
Anita pulls the turkey from the oven as Theresa and I seat the man, woman and son at our table. We place the food one item at a time. The teenage son sticks his finger in the mashed potatoes.
“No eating till Thanksgiving prayer,” Britney scolds him.
At last, Theresa emerges from the kitchen with the turkey.
We stand behind the family’s chairs and place our hands on their shoulders.
“And now,” I say, “Our Thanksgiving prayer.” We all bow our heads. “Father in heaven, we thank thee for the bounty we are about to receive. O Lord, we give thanks that on this day we will deliver the needy from their worldly suffering, and we ask that you guide them safely unto the kingdom of heaven. Amen.”
Theresa, Britney and I extend our fangs and bite hard into their necks. The screams of the homeless family leaving this mortal coil startle Furball from his slumber. A blur of orange calico fur rushes past the corner of my eye. The turkey will just have to wait until we’re done with our first course.
Proverbs 30:14: There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind.