Today is a melancholy day for me. Yes, on this Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful for so much – family, friends, faith, health, career – all the usual blessings we tend to reflect upon this time of year.
But Thanksgiving Day is different this year, and probably will be for years to come.
You see, since I met my wife nearly 20 years ago, I’ve spent most Thanksgivings with her family, usually at her aunt and uncle’s home in northeast Iowa. And each visit was made memorable by my wife’s grandfather, Mel.
I experienced Mel fully each Thanksgiving Day, usually through a barrage of questions and curiosity. That was his thing. The conversations helped Mel connect people through relationships he’d forged in life.
Despite his small stature and quiet presence, Mel built big things. From the ground up, he constructed the story-and-a-half house he shared with his wife of more than 60 years. Mel made his living with his hands, too, most notably as a carpenter and handyman for one of Dubuque, Iowa’s largest department stores.
Mel created with his heart, too, forging countless friendships that lasted decades, often through unselfish acts of kindness, like ringing bells for the Salvation Army, or volunteering at his local church.
His favorite questions started with, “Do you know so-and-so?” Or, “Have you ever met this person?” – Mel's sparkly blue eyes making him impossible to resist. It wasn’t that he was necessarily interested in my answers as much as he was in using my reactions to learn more about me – or anyone else he approached – during those November gatherings.
For an introvert like me, the conversations were uncomfortable at first. But after a few visits, it was old hat, and we would play the “do you know?” game, all the while getting to know each other better.
Sadly, Mel passed away in September after complications from a stroke. He was 91, and is dearly missed on this Thanksgiving Day by those who got to know him best.
I’ll miss those blue eyes, which would draw you into conversation and force your guard down.
I’ll miss trying to connect the people in our lives, and the opportunity to learn more about each other along the way.
I’ll miss visiting Mel, and spending time in his neat-as-a-pin home he built with his hands some 70 years ago. The house is still there – nestled among a sprawling university campus – but it’s not a home without Mel.
Yes, I’m thankful for the time I knew Mel and the conversations we had, but melancholy about having to spend today without his presence – and the opportunity to know him better.
Rest in peace, Grandpa Mel.
It didn’t matter what day of the week it was - that cozy little kitchen always smelled heavenly.
My grandma – or ‘Gram’ as I lovingly remember her, was always cooking when I came to visit her tiny house on Pacific Street. Some days she would be standing over the stove flipping fragrant cinnamon-spiced crepes (nicknamed “penny rolls”), and other times I’d find her cranking an apple peeler to make homemade applesauce – the waxy peels falling to the floor with a light ‘thunk’.
Gram had a wonderful way of captivating you with whatever project she was working on when you arrived. Greeting you with a hug so tight you could barely breathe, she would waste no time involving you in her latest endeavor.
“Go out to the garden and cut me some chives for the soup” she would say in her no-nonsense voice, handing me pair of scissors, and shooing me outdoors as soon as I set my suitcase down.
Gram taught me so many things over the years – but I’m most grateful for our time spent cooking together.
Besides sharing ways to make my own kitchen smell irresistible, she helped me discover the simple joy of creating something with your own two hands. And today, when I pull out recipe cards with her wobbly cursive handwriting, I’m grateful for the sweet memories that come flooding back with each line.
Thank you, Gram. I miss you.
What are your fondest memories of a special grandparent? What made them grand?
Editor's note: In the pursuit of dreams, take time to thank those who have helped you along the way. Each day during November, American Family Insurance will share ideas for showing appreciation for the people, things and events in our lives. We hope you use these 30 Days of Thanks as an opportunity to share your gratitude -- or even just take a few moments each day to reflect on everything good in your life. Visit us on Facebook during November for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks.
I was fresh out of college and heading to my first job in a community 30 miles away. With a tiny car – and even smaller bank account – I carefully weighed my limited options, finally deciding to rent a cheap trailer and complete the move in one haul.
Had I studied mechanical engineering rather than journalism, I might have realized a four-cylinder engine with 100,000-plus miles was not equipped to pull an overstuffed U-Haul on a hilly state thoroughfare. But the shoulder of Highway 23 was no place to be reevaluating my educational choices.
It was, however, the perfect spot to begin a crash course on the kindness of strangers.
During the next several hours:
- An acquaintance of someone I’d literally just met helped me move some of my more valuable possessions to a secure location. (He didn’t seem the least bit irritated to be helping a naive young punk on a hot summer afternoon.)
- A passing driver, noticing my plight, gave me a lift for a good chunk of my remaining journey.
- A young man from France, traveling across the U.S. on a tandem bike, offered his empty back seat for the remainder of my course. (I still have a hard time believing this wasn’t a dream!)
None of these strangers had to help. In fact, I would have totally understood if they hadn’t. After all, they didn’t know me. There was no money in it for them. And they certainly had lives and plans of their own.
But they did help. Because they had compassion. Because they were able to put someone else’s needs in front of their own.
In a nutshell: Because they were kind.
While these voluntary efforts occurred more than two decades ago, I think of them often.
They’re a testament to the lasting power of a stranger’s kindness – and a reminder that I, too, am a stranger to others in need.
Editor's note: In the pursuit of our dreams, take time to thank the people who have helped you along the way. Take time during November to express your gratitude. For daily reminders during these 30 Days of Thanks, visit American Family Insurance on Facebook.
It all started when I was three or four.
That’s when the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and other musical giants wafted through our home, providing the soundtrack for my formative years.
And ever since, I’ve been deeply, madly in love with music.
To say I’m grateful for music is an understatement. From The Clash’s “London Calling” to Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life,” music has profoundly shaped who I am and what I believe in. Live concerts by U2 and Bruce Springsteen have been transformative experiences that still fill my heart with passion and excitement when I think about them.
I’m thankful for music in countless other ways, as well.
It’s like a good friend that inspires me, motivates me or brings a smile to my face whenever I want. Songs like Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” or Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” musically wrap their arms around my shoulders and make me feel good inside.
Music also is like a cultural passport that allows me to explore other parts of society or different countries around the world. When I listen to “The Best of Bollywood,” I close my eyes and imagine I’m walking down the streets of Kolkata.
Not only that, but music helps me achieve time travel. When I hear disco music, I’m instantly transported back in time to the 1970s.
And, you don’t have to be musically talented to enjoy music, or even perform it, as anyone who’s done karaoke can attest.
In mysterious and wonderful ways, music opens doors and builds bridges to other people. It has provided the perfect foundation for a number of friendships I’ve made through the years, offering common ground and shared experiences. Music is a great equalizer, erasing socioeconomic differences, and it can even cut across political and religious lines. I’m especially thankful for that.
Music can give us hope, and inspire us to become better people. You simply can’t deny the transcendent, inspirational power of “We Shall Overcome.”
I’m deeply, eternally thankful for music. How about you?
When I decided to write a blog post about being thankful for dads, I asked my mom to help find a photo of me with my dad when I was young. A few days after the request, she told me she was having a hard time finding one.
What? How can that be? I have so many great memories of me with my dad. How could it be hard to find one photo of the two of us from the days when my dad was the only man that mattered?
She told me there were photos of me with my other siblings along with my dad, or photos of me with both my parents, but surprisingly no decent photos of just me and my dad. Although I was initially disappointed to learn that, it made me realize what I knew all along.
Maybe there are fewer pictures because my dad was busy doing everything he could just BEING a great dad. He was juggling the responsibilities of me alongside my five siblings and numerous pets, not to mention my mom and a full-time day job. Throw in there some additional schooling while we were kids, and I wonder how he ever had energy to keep up.
But he did keep up, and then some.
No matter how long or busy his day was, or how early in the day or late in the night I asked, he was there. Sometimes being there meant helping me understand my often-procrastinated math homework (accompanied by a stern sentence or two about such procrastination, of course). Sometimes it was playing a little basketball or tennis. Sometimes it was giving me a ride to a friend’s house when I was too cool to hang out at home. And sometimes it was just hanging out, listening to his old records. (This also explains why “Wooly Bully” always reminds me of him.)
When he wasn’t doing all of that, I can only assume he was the one behind the camera, capturing all of the precious moments with the family he loves.
My dad is the most patient, loving, intelligent and level-headed person you will ever know. He’s equally comfortable having a beer with you in the backyard or sipping a glass of wine at a black-tie event. He’s the kind of guy you can’t imagine would have ever had an enemy his entire life. He’s the person you know, even during your snotty teen years, is a man you will love, respect and admire for the rest of your life.
As an adult, my dad’s impact on my life has not diminished. Instead, it’s evolved into exactly what I’d imagine he wanted for me during those formative years. He is a constant influence, a little "Dad voice" in my head. Sometimes it manifests itself as my own voice when I tell my own kids to turn off the lights or direct them to something other than the “good printer paper.”
But more often, it’s the voice that guides my decisions, big and small, day in and day out. When I think I’m too busy to throw a football around with the kids, I think of that time my dad spent with me. When I think about a significant career decision, I try to imagine how my father would approach it. When I decided to marry my husband, you bet I made sure he was good enough to pass the Dad test.
And when I think I don’t have time to drive one and a half hours to hang out with my dad, I remember all of the time he spent making me who I am today.
I honestly don’t know the kind of person I’d be if I had a different father. As his daughter, I naturally possess some of his traits. But I also have the privilege of having grown up with him, which means learning from the best teacher on the planet.
And I couldn’t be more grateful for that.