Truly Thankful

I didn’t trust her question. Although just six or seven years old at the time, I was well trained in deciphering double meanings.

This grown-up never paid any attention to me. So why did she make a beeline from her backyard to me in mine and ask, “What did you have for Thanksgiving?”

The way she couched the words meant she was a little too anxious for my answer. What did she want to do with it? I detected she had a hidden agenda and would somehow use whatever I said against my family.

Early on children raised in an alcoholic home develop a hypersensitivity to verbal and nonverbal cues. No comment or question is ever inconsequential, innocent, or taken at face value. Always lurking is the suspicion of a driving ulterior motive. Therefore, the victimized child is constantly dissecting for the truth.

My young brain reasoned the neighbor couldn’t possibly know what had been going on in our house. She couldn’t see behind closed doors. Since it was too cold for the windows to be up, she couldn’t have heard Mama’s screams when Daddy hit her. And this pesky lady would have been sleeping when my father exploded into rage tantrums throughout the night.

I didn’t think the nosy neighbor would have seen the petrifying policemen, either. Her lookalike four-room house faced a different cul-de-sac. Chances were she was not outside when they came to our front door.

My total mistrust of this woman’s question was eclipsed, however, by my parents’ persistent teaching never to lie. So I answered the meddling neighbor truthfully and told her, “Potato soup.”

My father’s drinking binge had been in the endgame, where there was no money for whiskey, wine, beer, milk, or a Thanksgiving turkey. But I didn’t miss the latter as I dipped my spoon in the hot broth and sent it away from me like a ship going out to sea. When I brought the spoon back to me, I ate the captured potato pieces and celery bits.

As the family sat together around the kitchen table sipping our potato soup, I basked in the sobered silence. Daddy was not talking mean, Mama was not crying, and I was not scared.

That Thanksgiving Day I understood forever after what it means to be truly thankful.

For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.
(a grace prayer recited in British and Australian religious schools)

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