My father, Harold O. Gore, Esq., was a devout Episcopalian whose profound Christian faith guided his life, so in 1980, he started a new Thanksgiving tradition in our family. I am asking you to make it part of your tradition.
But first, a story that took place 21 years later.
In 1991, at the age of 80, Daddy knew he was developing Alzheimer's disease. In 2001, on the night before Thanksgiving, my mother ordered a pizza from Papa John's for dinner. My brother, Halbert, had arrived at their house minutes earlier from his 500 mile trip, and I from my 300 miler. The four of us sat down at Mother's tiny kitchen table. Mom placed the pizza box in the center of the table with paper plates and napkins around it.
"Say grace, Daddy," she instructed.
By this time, Daddy was deep into Alzheimer's, but he always said grace before meals, so we four bowed our heads. Daddy clasped his hands before his chest and closed his eyes. But he couldn't remember how to say the "Bless this food to our use and us to thy service..." prayer that Episcopalians often use. We sat quietly to give him time to think.
Then he opened his eyes. Hands still folded devoutly, he looked at the pizza box and read from the cover, "Better ingredients, Better pizza, Papa John's. Amen."
Mother, Halbert, and I echoed Daddy's amen, chuckled, and then wiped the tears from our eyes.
That has become a traditional Thanksgiving memory in our family, and sometimes, in reverence and humility, we actually offer it as grace over pizza. God understands.
But that was not the tradition Daddy started in 1980 that I am hoping you will adopt. The night before Thanksgiving that year, Daddy called Halbert and me into the living room. "Children," he said, "I want us to start a new Thanksgiving tradition tomorrow. We will each steal off quietly from the festivities and telephone someone to tell them that we are thankful that they are in our lives. The person we call must not be a relative. We will not tell each other whom we called or that we have made the call. This is to be strictly between ourselves and that one other person. Please think tonight about whom you will call. We won't talk about this again."
Halbert and I looked at each other. This was the way our daddy lived his life: quietly, humbly, thankfully. And his tradition remains ours today.
On Thanksgiving Day, we slip away from the festivities and call someone- not a relative- for whom we are thankful. We do not have a conversation with that person. When that person answers the phone, we identify ourselves and quickly say, "In our family, on Thanksgiving Day, we each select one person for whom we are thankful. Then we call that person and thank them for being in our lives. You are the person I wanted to call this Thanksgiving. Thank you for your kindness to me." Then we hang up.
Halbert and I agree: Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without our daddy's ritual.
I know that he agrees with me when I urge you to adopt our ritual. Your Thanksgiving will never be the same.