Saturday, December 03, 2005

November 22nd, September 11th...and for me, December 3rd

Some dates are stamped indelibly in our minds. For most Americans November 22nd and September 11th are unforgettable. For me, December 3rd is also on the list. That's the day in 1986 that my father died suddenly. I loved my father, and my memories of him are precious to me. I am sad that my grandchildren will never have the opportunity to know him. I wrote the following piece three years after his death. It was published in The Tennessean, Nashville's daily newspaper, on 11/23/89.

Until three years ago, I never really thought much about Thanksgiving. It provided two days off work, the opportunity to visit family and a chance to do some Christmas shopping. It was fun and had a lot of historical significance, but there wasn't anything to make it more special to me than other holidays.

Thanksgiving 1986 changed that.

In 1986, we had just moved to the Nashville area and decided to invite my family there for Thanksgiving weekend. With my parents, siblings, their spouses and children, we had a total of 26 people staying at our home for three days.

I planned well. We had mattresses and sleeping bags in almost every room. I set up a household chore chart and assigned each person a job, and each family brought a covered dish to share. It was a wonderful weekend.

On Thanksgiving Day, my father carved the turkey, said the blessing in his wonderfully rich voice and we had a traditional Thanksgiving meal. We sat around the fireplace that evening, sipping hot chocolate and spiced tea, watching movies and talking.

The day after Thanksgiving, we headed off to the State Fairgrounds for an arts and crafts show. Daddy had recently retired and had become interested in woodworking. He planned to give each of his grandchildren a hand-made wooden toy for Christmas. He wanted sleds for the boys and doll cradles for the girls. With 14 grandchildren, it was no small task. As we walked through the fairgrounds, Daddy talked to different woodworkers, jotting down ideas, and occasionally buying patterns for projects that interested him.

Later that evening, our plans included a trip to the Grand Ole Opry. At the last minute, our babysitting arrangements fell through. My husband gave up his ticket to stay home and babysit with all the children so I could go with my parents, brothers and sisters to the show.

It was a night to remember. When my mother was a young girl, Minnie Pearl came to her small mill town in Georgia and directed a play. Mother was in the play and so enjoyed knowing Minnie that she and Daddy following Minnie's career after that. Much to Mother's and Daddy's disappointment, however, Minnie Pearl wasn't listed on the program that night. Midway through Roy Acuff's segment of the show, though, she walked on the stage and gave a wonderful performance. It seemed like the perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

The next morning, everyone busily packed for the trip home. Daddy was a preacher, and he was anxious to get home and prepare for Sunday's service. As he and Mother drove out of the driveway, my sister, Debi, stopped them. Her son, Andrew, had just received a new camera and wanted to get a picture of Grandshaw (the nickname all the grandchildren used for Daddy).

As usual, Daddy was happy to stop whatever he was doing to help his grandchildren. So, they parked the car and came back inside. The grandchildren clustered around him and Mother, and we all took pictures - picture of Grandshaw, Mother and all the children.

Soon, everyone was gone, amid shouted goodbyes and promises to get together again at Christmas. We got together much sooner than that. Four days after everyone left, I got the phone call: My father was dead of heart failure.

One Friday, we were celebrating at the Grand Ole Opry; the next Friday we were standing around a grave, hand in hand, grieving for Daddy.

The pictures that we had taken just a few days earlier became precious keepsakes, and Thanksgving because extra special as we remembered the last time our family was complete.

After Daddy's funeral service, we went into his basement. We found several cradles already made, and the patterns and wood for the sleds laid out. My brothers, Terry and David, took the sleds and cradles to their home to finish, and on Christmas morning each grandchild recieved a last gift from Grandshaw.

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