CLERGY CORNER: Thanksgiving in Vermont

Posted on 30 November 2017 by LeslieM

As we all made our plans for Thanksgiving Day this year, surely the remembrance of past Thanksgivings, some good and some perhaps not so good, seeped into our memories. I was raised on a farm in Vermont and Thanksgiving Day was a big deal. The growing season was at an end by November, and it was time to celebrate and thank our Lord for whatever bounty He had provided.

We had a small family farm on a country road that led to the top of George Hill where my grandfather had his dairy farm. He raised fodder grain and tended his cows, while my grandmother raised turkeys and chickens and tended her vegetable garden. The country road was dotted with family farms that made up a closely knit community. There were years of plenty and years of scarcity; years when our root cellars and storerooms were full, and years when we wondered how we would make it through the winter until spring. No matter what each year brought, our community would gather together on Thanksgiving Day, at my grandfather’s farm, and give thanks to our Lord and share whatever we had.

Thanksgiving Day always unfolded based on a two-part plan that never strayed far from our community’s deep love and dependence on our Lord to provide what we needed.

My grandmother came from a long line of country cooks. She knew what to do in the kitchen so her part in the plan was to organize the food preparation. She provided the roast turkey; my mother brought the stuffing which used homemade caraway-rye bread [the caraway seeds were picked from the school yard across the road from our farm] and sausage made from hogs raised by Barbara’s husband; mashed potatoes and parsnips from Gwendolen’s root cellar; creamed onions from Ethel’s storeroom and, the pièce de résistance, crab apple pie, using apples picked from the trees behind Helene’s farm house. When I wandered into the kitchen, I could always hear my grandmother reminding the cooks that our meal, in any given year, was based on the bounty provided by our Lord, which we raised and harvested with our own hands.

Part two of the plan involved my grandfather. In addition to being a dairy farmer, he was a country preacher. He built his own church next to his farmhouse, drove his buggy along that country road on Sunday mornings, picked up his parishioners, took them to his church, preached to them and took them back to their homes.

On Thanksgiving Day, he would gather all the kids into his parlor and quiz us on what we knew about our Lord and what we wanted to thank Him for. One Thanksgiving, he asked us to give voice to our most fervent prayer. My prayer was that Daniel, my favorite uncle, would come home safe and sound. You see, Uncle Dan was in the army and fighting a war in Europe. My grandfather’s answer was, “Our Lord hears and answers our prayers, but in His own time, and as is best suited for each of us.”

There was an empty chair at the dining room table that year. I asked my grandfather who it was for. He dropped his eyes and said, “Do you know Rabbi Eleazar from town? Well, he says the empty chair at his table is for the prophet Elijah. The rabbi says Elijah will bring news we need to hear from our Father in heaven.” Before the meal ended, there was a knock at the door. My grandfather asked me to see who was there. Spoiler alert – it was my Uncle Dan, handsomely dressed in his army uniform. I jumped into his arms and he carried me back to the dining room table amid the cheers from everyone and the broad grins on the faces of my grandparents.

They never fessed up to it, but I always suspected that my grandparents knew Daniel was coming home and choreographed it all to teach us a lesson about living in the hands of a benevolent God who hears and answers prayers, and provides for the well-being of his children. I pray this for each of you during this Thanksgiving season and always.

Rev. M. Tracy Smith, SSA, Rector is from the Saint Peter’s Anglican Church, 1416 SE 2 Terr., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-695-0336. Wednesdays and Sundays: Holy Communion at 10 a.m.

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