There are few things that provoke memories more quickly and deeply than when our senses are stimulated by a sound, a smell, a sight, a touch, or a taste. The images that involuntarily rush to the forefront of the mind are powerful and poignant. And they are so individualized for each of us because our stories are so different.
For me, the smell of wet leaves in the fall prompt warm memories of sharing many days afield in Central Pennsylvania with my father, brothers, and uncle. The biting wind laced with snowflakes that pummeled my face in my tree stand two days ago also provoked memories and prompted a text to my younger brother. We both enjoyed reminiscing about those bygone days that did so much to shape our souls as young boys and now as men with our own families.
The smell of coffee takes me back to lazy summer days of camping along the Susquehanna River. That’s where my love affair with coffee began. My Great Aunt Marie would haul out her giant percolator (it seemed like 10 gallons to me back then) and began brewing this dark, rich elixir that was best served in large mugs with an unhealthy slosh of half-and-half. And so it began.
Then there’s waking up on Thanksgiving morning to the irresistible smell of turkey wafting throughout the house. There was nothing else like it throughout the year. It would hit your nostrils as soon as you cracked opened the bedroom door, engulfing you in glorious anticipation of the tantalizing feast we would soon consume with family and friends around the large oak table in our kitchen.
Three generations would laugh, eat, tell stories, bump elbows. There was never enough room. But no one cared. We were together. A family. And we loved it! Not that it was always Norman Rockwellian-picture-perfect. Far from it. But it was still good to be together with the people that we loved . . . warts and all.
The pungent taste of turkey dredged through a bath of homemade cranberry sauce is an unmistakeable explosion of flavor that screams Thanksgiving in my mouth and reminds me of those who came before me, those who established these memory-provoking traditions and who led the way by encouraging faith, establishing hope, and embracing love in my family.
Paul’s words to his dear friend Philemon come to mind as these memories of celebrations past swirl in my head: “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers” (Philemon 1:4). The things that I’m most thankful for are not things at all. It’s the people God has blessed me with. It’s the relationships that matter. And it’s my relationship with a personal God for which I’m most grateful, apart from which nothing else would matter or even be a possibility.
So after a weekend of celebrating thankfulness with family and friends, I find that the end-of-the-year holiday season (from Thanksgiving through Christmas to New Year’s) sparks a renewal of gratefulness. This time of year can tend to focus more on greed and gluttony than gratefulness. I certainly have been guilty of that. My hope and desire is to become a more grateful man, and that gratefulness will characterize me more throughout the remainder of the year as well.