I subscribe, along with some other (much more) talented people, to a poetry writing group online. The site is Poetic Bloomings. https://poeticbloomings2.wordpress.com/ Each week they host a different prompt and whoever wishes may submit their poetry in the form of their choice. Last Sunday the prompt was “Words of Thanksgiving”. All the traditional words we associate with Thanksgiving Day, with instructions to write a poem using any and as many of the words from the list as we could/wanted. The words just stirred a flurry of old memories and I pretty much wrote what came to mind. The more I wrote the more memories surfaced. What lays before you, is the result of that exercise. The words assigned are; Yams, Thankful, Pumpkin, Nap, Leaves, Pilgrims, Parades, Friends, Stuffing, Fall, Grateful, Plymouth, Holiday, Feast, Football, Turkey, Gravy, Natives, Traditions, Food, Eat, Family, Food, Blessings, Cranberries. I hope you enjoy this meander through some old memories.
Words of Thanksgiving By David De Jong
The day always began with a trip to church for the Thanksgiving Day service, where we sang traditional hymns from the red or blue hymnal in the pew racks. Pages dog-eared and tattered from countless years of use and licked fingers from mostly common folk; farmers, factory workers, families, young and old. Grandpa (Pake) was the janitor and always sat in the back, corner pew so he could get up to operate the lights and monitor the doors during the services. We generally sat in the same pew, where Grandma (Beppe) would be waiting, with her magnifying-glass ready, so she could read/sing along during the service. It was also normal for her to have her Friesian Bible sitting beside her and another hymnal tucked behind her lower back because she was in so much pain. Later in life we would get a first-hand education on cataracts, osteoporosis and cancer.
The folks, two oldest brothers, grandpa and grandma were all natives of the Netherlands, true pilgrims in a new land, we now all call home. They came from world wars, the holocaust, rations, hiding, smuggling Jews, or whatever else was needed. All their belongings were packed into a wood crate and a steamer trunk that crossed the ocean on the Queen Elizabeth. Grandpa and Grandma came shortly after on the Queen Mary, a ship now restored and docked in Southern California as a museum. Like most immigrants, they arrived in America at Ellis Island where they received more common names. Thanksgiving was much more than a tradition to them. It was a celebration of life, an honor of freedom, almost sacred, a God given privilege.
Usually the leaves were already raked, burned and gone by the holiday or just covered from an early fall snow or the latest Midwest blizzard. I can remember Thanksgiving mornings walking fence-lines, knee deep in snow, trying to kick up a lone rooster and squeeze in a single shot before it vanished into the storm. The fence and its gate would be the only guide back home for the feast. You just couldn’t see, due to the cold north wind and blowing snow. Dad didn’t much like turkey meat, so we would eat fresh game; pheasants, rabbits, an occasionally ham from the freezer, or a fat broiler from the chickens harvested out of the coop earlier. It was always a family affair, four brothers and one sister, bundled up for the cold, happily walking the neighboring fields, grateful. Back home, Mom was already busy with everyone’s favorite pies; pumpkin, apple, and cherry. The aromas of Mom’s baking were never disappointing. When we got back from trapesing through the fields; fresh baked bread, slices of cheese, and some hot coffee or even better, Mom’s special Dutch hot-cocoa topped with real whipped-cream, warmed us up. I think we were weaned on hot tea and coffee, both, dark and strong. If you could see the bottom of the cup, it was too weak. Whatever we had it was always served in a cup and saucer, with a spoon on the side, along with cream and sugar or whipped cream on special occasions and Sundays. Now days it’s common to go to specialty coffee shops and pay high dollar prices for strong coffee with whipped cream toppings.
Stuffing and cranberries were not on the menu, but we were definitely stuffed from gobbling all mom’s wonderful food. It would be many years before I ever heard of particular foods, like yams or sweet potatoes, even though potatoes and gravy were a staple at our table. I can still hear the steam whistling, escaping mom’s old one handled pot, clicking and clattering atop the stove, boiling fresh peeled potatoes dug from the rich black dirt of the garden during the last days of summer. Potatoes I remember planting with Pake or Dad. They would dig the hole with a spade and I got to put the potato in the hole. Grandpa would grumble something in Friesian because I would just chuck the potato in the hole not paying attention to the sprout. He would stop, lovingly grumble, and turn the spud so the sprout was facing up. It was driving him crazy. Often, we would have to help peel potatoes. Mom could out-peel us using just a paring knife while we tried to keep up with the actual peeler and not peel our fingers.
We were a little envious of friends that had color TV, ours was black and white. Colors had to be imagined, watching the parades, football, etc. on one of three channels. Generally, the “remote” was the youngest (me) or whoever happened to be standing/walking through the room. I can’t say we watched a lot of TV, but we had our regular favorites. Wild Kingdom and Walt Disney Sunday nights after church, Lawrence Welk after the weekly bath on Saturday, and Mom usually had Walter Cronkite on the news while making supper. Mom and Dad would take naps while us kids sat around the table playing cards; rummy, spades, canasta or other games like hangman and battleship on paper. Sometimes the whole family would go back outside to shoot tin cans and bottles back behind the old Plymouth in the grove. When we were done, Mom always had more pie and treats to eat with hot tea or cocoa to warm us up again. Such a rich memory growing up, that at the time, we just took for granted. I am so thankful, we were blessed and loved so much.
When we were kids growing up, I don’t remember hearing the words “I love you”, but there was never a time we doubted we were loved. Now, we tell our loved ones “Love You” every chance we get; on the phone, in a text or with a hug in person. Being loved and having someone to love is such a precious gift, yet we don’t even think about. We take it for granted, until it’s taken away, most often after it’s too late. Enjoy your moments of being loved and loving this Thanksgiving Day, (and every day). It’s a whole year until the next one, and a lot changes in a year’s time.
I came upon a mirror, in the passage of my sleep;
That showed me all the demons, of the shallows and the deep.
Each a cunning traitor, with trinkets to cover their lies;
All laughing at my efforts, to renounce them from my eyes.
I turned to run but stumbled, seeing fathomed lower ground;
Descending cliffs and edges, where no footing could be found.
I could feel their smarmy breath, and its stench of rotten flesh;
Slithering ever closer, in inescapable mesh.
My chest was like a drum, with each hammering frantic beat;
While sky began to measure, the distance beneath my feet.
Somehow, I learned to venture, upon nothing but a prayer;
While my spirit seemed to carry me, gently through the air.
I soared as if an eagle, simply gliding on the wind;
Sailing on wings of hope and peace, with grace to never end.
I skimmed the darkened valleys, where despair and death lay wait;
But a shepherd kept them guarded and locked behind the gate.
Fear lay trembling furious, for it saw itself in view;
Reflected in the armor and sword the shepherd drew.
Great blackened clouds of shame, could no longer obscure the way;
Against a glorious brilliance, of forgiveness there to stay.
I came upon a mirror, in the passage of my sleep;
That showed me all the angels, of the shallows and the deep.
How they carried the wounded souls and hearkened to their cries;
Ever vigilant watching, while listening with their eyes.
Their numbers couldn’t be counted, nor their ranks an end could see;
With chariots upon the fire, like ships upon the sea.
Piercing eyes revolving, in the spokes of every wheel;
Like spears of lighting and thunder, emblazoned blades of steel.
With deafening clash of weapons, enough to break the day;
They battled against the demons, to keep them held at bay.
It was there I saw the Master, The Christ, the Holy One;
All Alpha and Omega, the Trinity, Three in One.
His blood-stained robe from battle, and the sacrifice He made;
With scars upon His hands, now clenching the Purest of all blades.
He charged upon a stallion, with a coat of gleaming white;
And all His angels followed, while the demons took their flight.
He drove them to oblivion, where none can gain their pass;
Each suff’ring pain eternal, in a sea of molten glass.
I came upon a mirror, in the passage of my sleep;
That showed my Savior rescues, from the shallows and the deep.
We skimmed the cream and drank the milk;
Fatty, thick, goodness; cold raw silk.
Whipped cream puffs as a Sunday treat;
Taste of heaven ev’ry bite you’d eat.
Hand churned our butter, used all week;
While watching Mom, bake all the treats.
Mom’s bread and butter fresh that day;
Nothing better, no how, no way.
Between the breads, were bars and pies;
A feast of love before our eyes
Our clothes were sewn at home with care;
Each thing we wore was non-compare.
Some hand me downs and re-stitched jeans;
As we grew, Mom let out the seams.
Hand-knit sweaters, mittens and hats;
Kept us cozy warm, snug as cats.
Old bread bags placed inside our shoes;
We didn’t care or have a clue.
We didn’t know a diff’rent way;
We were loved, each and ev’ry day.
Some folks would say that we were poor;
But that’s a lie and that’s for sure.
With blessings more than we could count;
Nor compare to any amount.
We did our chores and took our seat;
Thankful, for what we had to eat.
We took turns washing the dishes;
While sharing our dreams and wishes.
As we washed, a verse soaked our brains;
Pinned eyelevel, between the panes.
Thank God for dirty dishes;
They have a tale to tell.
While others may go hungry,
We’re eating very well.
With Home, Health and Happiness,
I shouldn’t want to fuss;
By the stack of evidence,
God’s been very good to us.
So when my hands are in the sink;
It always makes me, stop and think;
About blessings I had as a child.
It warms my heart and brings a smile;
Thanking the Good Lord for it all.
Some of life’s best blessings, come small.
Save a painted memory of time and circumstance
Where aspens gifted imagery thrills your heart to dance
Sifted sunlight glazing, September’s glacier views
Surmounted in a palette of unimagined hues
Trees adorned with windows stained in cathedral flare
Each their life a story told in riddles non-compare
Brushstrokes of the Creator wafted in sheer delight
Minute by minute transcending prior sacred light
Angles and shadows migrate across a stunning scene
The mountains cast their power as masters yet serene
Glaciers creep and sway against ancient granite sleds
And trickle streams and dreams of therapeutic threads
No single color stands except a sentry pine
Cast amongst the alders and willows to refine
Perhaps it holds the time and saves its coat in sight
To guard the valley hues with brilliance against the white
A breath seems too intrusive this grand and sacred sight
While prayers are whispered solemnly, hold the day for night
But as it closes quietly under shadowed blue
This vision paints my memory, may it dwell with you
I’ve taken the bottle and let it flood my mind;
Flirted with death, said many words unkind.
Took the roads less traveled, wandering for relief;
Every turn found misery, churning silent grief.
Fist full of pills, powder cut to a line;
Nothing forbidden, with no sense of time.
Nights forgotten, before coming to end;
Blurring at home, not knowing how or when.
Took love for granted, nonchalant, cast it aside;
Threw out dignity, in exchange for pompous pride.
Took a tender heart and ripped it to bleeding shreds;
While never connecting the unravelling threads.
Ambassador to indulgence, no happenstance;
A fool in a court of jesters, living by chance.
A mind that knew better and a heart that withdrew;
Charted a hopeless chasm, with no bridge in view.
I saw heaven at the ridge, with no way across;
Except for a shepherd, dragging a bloody cross.
He knew my name, called me closer, my past in view;
And said, “This cross I bear, was the cross meant for you”.
He opened my heart and gently removed my shame;
Then with his blood-soaked hands, He erased my blame.
Now that my soul’s restored, I live in gratefulness;
And rejoice in Christ’s miracle of blamelessness.