I’ve always liked Thanksgiving as a holiday: good food, slower pace, fewer expectations. The best Thanksgiving in recent memory was one I spent in a tiny office in a nursing home and assisted living center in Maplewood, surrounded by file cabinets, bulletin boards and staffing charts.
My friend Cindy Lamont and I were spending the holiday with The Bear, an old newspaper colleague of mine who had covered cops, courts, sports and the outdoors. He was confined to a wheelchair with the effects from congestive heart failure and a stroke. Three of his four children lived half a continent away and the fourth was meeting family obligations at his in-laws.
Besides, Cindy and I had spent the previous two Thanksgivings with The Bear, at The St. Paul Hotel for dinner, followed by a movie; we’d had a good time. Now that he was no longer able to get in or out of a car, we brought dinner to him. The Bear, whose byline read Bob Schranck, was a day late and a dollar short when it came to meeting deadlines, buying Christmas presents or cleaning house.
But he was a lovely friend – the kind who ignores your obvious defects of character and delights in your subtle victories against the odds. We ate in the head nurse’s office because The Bear had not mentioned to anyone that we were coming and all of the smaller dining rooms were occupied.
Turns out it didn’t make any difference. The turkey, dressing (with plenty of fresh-ground sage), mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie from Byerly’s tasted just fine, heated in a microwave down the hall.
What was better than the meal was the fellowship. We began with a Thanksgiving prayer and The Bear, not exactly one who prayed daily, bowed his head. We thanked God for our relationship, for the love we shared and for the opportunity to be together. The Bear smiled widely and ate heartily. Frankly, Byerly’s made the best dressing since I left home and my father’s special recipe.
It was good for me to hear The Bear being thankful for his blessings, for just being alive. He had lost so much: couldn’t walk, couldn’t stand, couldn’t dress himself. But this was the same guy, the same spirit, I’d known for five decades. We fished in the Quetico. We ate dinner in Saskatoon. We chased a multiple murder story in Stearns County. In spite of the handicaps, The Bear was totally in the game. He was a pleasure to be around, especially to a guy like me who would bellyache over the paper cuts he’d suffered.
Over dinner, the three of us traded stories. Cindy told about The Bear explaining the game of football. The Bear recalled the Thanksgiving that he and I spent with Chad Mitchell, the 1960s folk singer marooned in Minneapolis over the holiday. I recounted the time he had tried to scatter some poor guy’s ashes from a float plane over the Canadian wilderness, only to have a gust of wind blow them back in the plane over our camping and cook gear.
When we finished the pie and drank our coffee, we wrapped the leftovers and wheeled The Bear to his room. We left him in front of a window reading his daily paper. On our way home, Cindy and I talked about his good humor, upbeat attitude and gracious spirit. The Bear died in 2010, and we miss him.
Yep, the lesson is to be thankful for what you have, and not to worry about what you’re missing. It makes life easier for you – and the people who are around you.