Friday, November 20, 2015

What are you thankful for?

The month of November tends to be a month when we reflect on the thing for which we are thankful. Understandable, since Thanksgiving falls in the latter part of the month.  As a child, my dad instilled a tradition in which each person present for Thanksgiving dinner had to tell two things they were thankful for that year before we could eat. The tradition stuck with me, and my husband and I changed it up so that we do this every night before dinner.  It's a fun experience that I highly recommend. Some nights the kids say something silly, and we even had two months straight of our four year old being thankful for a balloon. But then there are the nights when they don't answer right away.  They tilt their little chins and look up, thinking-really thinking- of all they have to be grateful for, and I remember why we go through it every night.

For this post, I thought it would be fun to travel back one-hundred and fifty years, to the year 1865, and drop in on a family on Thanksgiving.  Let's listen as they circle around the table, giving their thanks for the year.

1870 Ridleys - Thanksgiving, NY

"Before we eat, let's each say one thing we're thankful for." Frank Billings looked around the table, making eye contact with each person sitting at the table. The year had been difficult, and now more than ever, they needed to focus on their blessings. "Ethel, we'll begin with your since you're the youngest."

"I'm thankful for my Alice in Wonderland book, that Aunt Liz brought me from her trip to England, and that Auntie is home again." Ethel stared at the food on her plate, probably wondering how much she had to eat before she was allowed a slice of pie.

Frank smiled. "That was a lovely gift she brought you. Nellie, your turn."

A dreamy expression rested on Nellie's face. "I'm thankful for The Checkered Game of Life."

Angling his head, Frank looked at his daughter, perplexed that she'd choose a parlor game to be her thankfulness item. Then he remembered what Caroline, his beloved wife, had told him last week. Nellie was now of courting age, and had an interest in John Rutgers. Something told him that when she played the popular game, she dreamt of a life with John.  He should prepare himself for a visit from the young man.

To be young and carefree again.

His gaze skipped over the two empty chairs. He couldn't dwell on the vacancies yet without his heart aching for his sons. "Caroline?"

She didn't answer right away but blinked rapidly. Her delicate throat constricted when she swallowed. "I'm thankful the dreadful war is finally over."

So many words unspoken.  Frank Jr, had been killed in '62.  Seth, their second oldest, was missing, even months after the war ended. They couldn't give up hope.

Frank rubbed his jaw. "We can all agree on that."  He needed to do something to lighten the heavy mood. "I'm thankful for my Stetson hat."

The gift had come as a surprise in the post earlier that week. He still wasn't sure why his brother had sent it, but an accompanying note said,"These are the hats everyone will soon be wearing."

A few chuckles circled the room.

"It looks good on you, Pa."

"As would anything."  Caroline offered him a hesitant smile.

Moments of joy had been so rare the last few years. If only...

The door opened and everyone's head turned.  There, in the opening, stood Seth.

He'd come home. They all had something else to be thankful for now.


Did you enjoy your brief travel back in time?

A few notes regarding the "thankfulness" passage.  Alice in Wonderland was first published in England in the summer of 1865, but not in America until November 1865.

The Game of Life was created in 1860 by Milton Bradley. It was originally called The Checkered Game of Life and is considered to be one of the first parlor games.

John Stetson opened his first factory (a rented room) in 1865 with only $100.  Within a year, the "boss of the plains" style would be created.

While Lee's surrender at Appomattox is often synonymous with the end of the Civil War,  President Johnson did not officially sign a declaration to end the war until four months later in August of 1865.  For many soldiers, it would still be months before they saw home again.

One final note- this short narration is not connected to any of my works but is a simple portrayal of a familiar scene from a different time. I hope you enjoyed it and thought about your own things to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Leah I loved the short passage you wrote. I was right there at that table! And what a great tradition to start with your own family. I have tried this at Thanksgiving and get a lot a of silly answers from my sons and my husband. I think they like doing it--they just are a bit embarrassed to reveal anything too serious. Hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful!

    1. My husband was the same way at first, but he came around. Not to say he's never silly about it :)

  2. Leah, it was beautiful. Thank you for sharing a part of your life and finding the key to 150 years ago. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines-author