I approached the sink with another armload of pots and pans, sure that this time, he’d react, but not even a casserole dish caked in burnt cheese could ruin his good cheer. “Thank you, sister,” he said, taking the stack and plunging his aged hands—pruney from hours spent in hot, soapy water—through the suds.
Every Thanksgiving it was the same. Feeding a battalion of family members and guests was an intricate dance, one that required teamwork and coordination to pull off successfully. To make sure the carrot soufflé was done so we could make room in the oven for squash casserole and to leave enough time for the yeast rolls to bake on their own, everything had to move according to a strict schedule. And what with all the chopping, mincing, shredding, and measuring, there was precious little time left over to clean up. That’s where Papaw, my grandfather, came in. On Thanksgiving morning, that was his exclusive task—to keep the clutter of crockery and utensils to a minimum and a supply of clean pots at the ready.
It was a commonplace chore, but he loved every minute of it.
For Papaw—a Walmart district manager—Thanksgiving was a day of simplicity, a day to breathe deeply and relax before running headlong into retail hell that was the Christmas season. “I’ll have a thousand things to do tomorrow,” he’d say. “But today, I have only one: to enjoy my many blessings and be grateful for them.” And enjoy them he did—starting with a huge helping of turkey, dressing, and giblet gravy and ending with the third slice of pecan pie. Because of him, I learned that relishing what we’ve been given is a holy task, and Thanksgiving a way to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8).
“I’ll have a thousand things to do tomorrow,” he’d say. “But today, I have only one: to enjoy my many blessings and be grateful for them.”
In a letter to a friend, the American author and poet Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I do believe in simplicity … When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.”
It’s wise advice, to be certain, though not always easy to follow. Amid the minutiae and tyrannical press of the now, it can be difficult to “distinguish the necessary and the real” from the rest. However, when we do manage to clean our plates—whether feasting at a Thanksgiving table or standing at the kitchen sink like Papaw—gratitude is a little easier to come by.
Illustration by Jeff Gregory