For most of my life, Thanksgiving meant one thing – lunch at my grandparents' house.
As far back as I can remember, we went to Pa Paw and Granny's house. My grandparents were Jim O. "Sharky" and Ruby Phillips. Their house has always been special to me because a good many of my childhood memories happened there.
Thanksgivings in the past were always exciting because there were so many people in there. I am sure that most holidays more than 50 people would cram into their modest house on Hull Road in Sumiton. To a child, that many people might as well have been 1,000.
One of the most vivid memories I have of Thanksgiving at their house is how noisy it was. With that many people, it could not be helped, but it was a good noise. Even today when I think about it, I can hear the rumble of several conversations taking place in several different rooms, and it seemed like there was always laughter in one of those conversations. When one group would stop laughing, another one would start. As a child, I never knew what all the laughing was about, but it would give me a good feeling to see how happy everyone was.
The best thing about those Thanksgivings was the food. It was a spread that probably could have fed some small countries for a month. I remember eating leftovers for days because my grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and they made sure we did not waste food.
Before we could get to the food, there was always one hurdle to overcome – the annual blessing of the food by my grandfather. Many people tell me that my sense of humor is similar to my grandfather's. He knew that all of us were chomping at the bit to tear into the bountiful harvest that was before us, but that did not stop him from saying some of the longest prayers in the history of the world. He would always start the prayer by telling everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes. After making sure each person followed the order, he would begin by thanking the Good Lord for the food and the hands that had prepared it. Most people would do that, mention life's blessings and wrap it up. That was not Pa Paw's style. He would continue with his prayer that gave thanks for everything from the paper plates and the people in the factory that made them to Granny's new tablecloth and the people who sewed it together.
These prayers would continue so long that I could hear family members begin licking their lips in anticipation of the food. Some kinfolk would later tell me that they would start sweating during the prayer. One year, I remember looking up during Grandpa's prayer, which is something I think most of the family wanted to do but were scared to attempt. As I looked up, I saw the rest of the crew squirming and fighting to keep their heads down and bellies calmed. As they fought back hunger, I looked at Pa Paw, who also had his eyes open and was looking around at everybody else smiling. He looked at me and gave me one of his big grins, which is his most memorable look to me. He was really enjoying making the others wait on the food.
I think Grandpa's long prayers made the food taste that much better, and we were all definitely thankful to be eating it. His prayer was partially a joke, but it was also very serious. As I mentioned before, my grandparents lived through the Depression, and they were thankful for everything they had. He was honestly thankful for the paper plate, plastic utensils and napkins. He was thankful to have it, but he also knew it was just stuff, and he knew it was not his stuff.
My grandfather, although he died when I was 12 years old, was one of the largest influences on my spiritual formation. He got it. He could hardly talk about Jesus without crying, because he was so moved by God's grace and love for Him. He always talked to me about following Jesus and living for Him. He would give me these words of wisdom that I did not think about then, but they come back to me from time to time now. He was a thankful man.
One of the last Thanksgivings that he was alive, I remember sitting outside his house in the swing with him as family members began to leave. Once most everybody was gone, he told me how lucky he was that God let us be his for a little while. I had no idea what he meant then, but years later I realized that Pa Paw believed all of us were on loan from God. After having children of my own, I understand what he was saying. He was thankful that God entrusted him to take care of that crazy bunch of people for a little while. I am thankful God has entrusted me with my crazy bunch as well. I cannot wait for the day when our seven turns into 50. I have already picked out my grandfather name – Big Poppa. Maybe then, I will get to do an even longer Thanksgiving prayer than my granddad did.
James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be contacted at 205-221-2840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.