By Nancy Hoag
My husband and I were longing for a holiday around the table with our own family. In years past, even the joy of being with neighbors or Scotty’s colleagues had sufficed. But this year we would be living in a travel trailer and building Habitat for Humanity houses nearly two-thousand miles from the place we called home. Daily, I’d been dreaming about the familiar faces that “should have been” gathered together; when Thanksgiving arrived, I doubted I’d be able to shake the familiar sadness that too often gave me the sense that we’d become completely disconnected.
Until the day we were introduced to the “extended family” God had planted in Georgia.
There were nine of us volunteering, living in yet another unfamiliar campground, and discussing the unhappy fact that we would either be dining in our trailers or looking for a hotel with a menu that might include turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and an old-fashioned dressing. While I tried to be upbeat, I was finally admitting to my husband how I had, for days, been wrestling with despair. In the presence of our teammates, however, I’d suggested, “We can at least be grateful that we have each other.” Only hours before we were to begin our search for a café that would be serving a “real” Thanksgiving meal, we discovered God had come up with a better plan.
“Y’all have kin or anywhere to go?” Her smile inviting, a local had approached our team’s lunch table.
Several volunteers shook their heads. “We’re going to find a café,” I was saying when the woman began to shake her head and interrupted me. “My daughter and her husband own a farm west of town. She’d be so pleased if you’d share Thanksgiving with our family.”
Her daughter? A farm? It sounded wonderful. “But I have only my work clothes,” I said. “In other words, nothing to wear.”
The woman smiled. “Y’all just come on out to our place,” she said, scribbling on a pad the directions we would need to get there.
“What can we bring?” one of the other volunteers asked.
“Just bring yourselves.” The woman smiled. “Or if fixing a family special is something you’d prefer?. . . well, bring just anything at all. We’ll have plenty, though, and we’ll consider it a blessing if you folks would join us.”
Within minutes we were each saying how good all of this sounded. Our spirits lifted, we started making our lists. To say my husband likes my pumpkin pie is to put it mildly. “I’ll bring a couple of pies,” I said, as the others began to announce which favorite salad, hot dish, or dessert they would add to the festive table. Not until the day arrived, however, did we realize how delightful a day spent with a deeply-rooted, five-generation family could be, but we were about to discover, on a far-from-town farm, a kindness we would not soon forget.
Prior to our arrival, our hosts – and their aunts, uncles, grandmothers, children, and grandchildren – had been total strangers to us Yankees. Within minutes, however, we were being hugged and made to feel as if we’d come home. The invitation to bring, “just anything at all” had broken the ice. Surrounded by the lovely aroma wafting from more than one turkey stuffed with dressing and catching the sweet scent of baked yams, we were invited to help set up chairs and tables. With more than forty of us filling the house, there would also be rockers to rearrange on the porch, playpens to set up, babies on laps, and an occasional hound making his appearance. In addition, some tables needed platters while others were ready and waiting for the vegetables, beverages, and a mouth-watering assortment of “goodies” created from family recipes. A tabletop banner said, “Welcome!” as we bowed our heads, joined hands, and thanked our Heavenly Father for all He had provided – including the “family reunion” and our being invited to “get comfy.” After dinner, when I offered to help with the dishes, a sweet-smiling great-grandmother offered me a hand-embroidered towel and her, “Well, then, you just come on in here and be my extra.” Had I spent Thanksgiving with my daughter and granddaughters, I’d have been joyfully doing the very same.
We’d been on the farm several hours – with even the teens inviting us to join them for a game of Scrabble – when one of the younger family members noted how he’d seen me “walking all that way down to the kennels” for a look at the brand new pups. With zero hesitation, this handsome member of the family had suddenly wheeled alongside to declare how he thought I should “hop on in” for a lift to the house. At first, I hesitated, but who could resist that grin? So I did “hop on in” and was treated to my first “invigorating” ride in an ATV driven by a 7-year-old proudly announcing – when I asked about his qualifications – “Shoot! I’ve been driving for years.” Then, as if that hadn’t been more joy than I deserved, I was dropped off at the house where I was handed an infant to rock, and I recalled the day I’d cradled my first grandbaby.
Catching my husband’s smile, I nodded as a mother with her daughters disappeared on horseback up and over a sunset hill. I’d dreaded not being with “my own” family, and had even said, “This day will simply be a day to get through.” But today I knew we would never again enjoy a day more than we’d enjoyed our day on this farm in Georgia. The Lord had provided a home-cooked meal, a happy kitchen, raisin pie exactly like my own Grandma’s, a generous family, a breath of fresh air on a wooden porch –and my first ride on an ATV.
We’d been joined to a household that had, for a day, become our own – and rediscovered how very much God cares for every member of His “extended” family. >