Thanksgiving Thoughts

Our house will soon be engulfed in chaos as about 30 people we love arrive to celebrate Thanksgiving.  My wife selected this holiday years ago as the one where we would try to gather the entire family to express appreciation for one another, count our blessings, and, of course, watch football.  Truthfully, I think my sons much prefer the annual Turkey Bowl where we play football to intermittently watching it on television.

Evelyn patiently endures the football in exchange for exercises or games that require everyone to participate.  We have explored family history, watched old home movies, and engaged in a number of contests that include nice prizes.  This year, each person was asked to write a letter that included such thoughts as the five most influential people in our lives, our seven defining moments, and the most interesting things we have ever done.  Even the youngest children are involved, although those that can’t read or write required parental assistance.  Knowing my wife, we will listen to all 30 essays before we can even turn on the TV.

I thought I was being very cooperative by sitting down a week or so ago and writing my letter until Evelyn informed me it wasn’t good enough.  She said it was a nice letter, but it didn’t answer all her questions.  The penalty for not doing it right is that I will not receive a prize for being one of the first to respond.

Following the essay readings, the feast, and the football, the crowd slowly disperses; some go to in-laws while others go home to recover.  Our house stays full until Sunday, and I just learned that my Saturday will be spent in Sweet Home watching two of my grandsons wrestle.  I remember with some affection my youngest son’s last wrestling match and the happy realization that I would not have to travel to distant gyms in icy weather to sit on hard bleachers and watch kids try to humiliate and/or harm my kid.  Now I get to enjoy this experience with my grandsons.  I’m excited.

I will arrive home in time to watch the annual Civil War, although there is usually nothing civil about it.  I do not believe we have any adult Beaver haters in the family, but we are all confirmed Ducks.  Roland, my 12-year-old grandson, has matured from the days when he would write “Go Ducks” on all his school papers and get into occasional fights with Beaver classmates.  He has grown into a really considerate young man who excels in schoolwork and sports.  I am particularly thankful that our partisanship did not scar him for life.

My seven-year-old grandson, Owen, may not be so lucky.  My daughter, Owen’s mother, could not find her cell phone last Monday and began calling the number in an effort to locate it.  Eventually the principal’s office at his school answered and informed my daughter that Owen had brought her cell phone to school.  She went to retrieve the phone; and when she asked Owen why he had taken it, he responded that she threatened to call Grandpa (me) and tell him not to take Owen to last Saturday’s Duck game if his behavior didn’t improve; so he did the only thing he could do.

I wish all who read this column a happy Thanksgiving!  Owen and I had a great time at the Duck game, and I hope we enjoy the Civil War just as much.

Owen 2
Owen sans cell phone at Autzen Stadium – Go Ducks!


Fighting Hatred

I was saddened to learn of an incident during our Veterans’ Day Parade that involved unknown people putting racially offensive flyers on cars in the downtown area.  Anyone with much knowledge of U.S. history knows that veterans of all races have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country and our greatest ideals.  There is never an appropriate time for bigotry, but I find it hard to imagine a more inappropriate moment to express this form of hatred than during an event to honor those who have sacrificed on behalf of all of us.  The cowardice of posting anonymous hate messages stands in stark contrast to the willingness to openly defend our country and its values.

It doesn’t require much effort to condemn hatred, and I think it’s appropriate that we do so whenever it surfaces in our community.  I think it’s more important, however, to act against it every day through respect, compassion, and exercise of the Golden Rule.  We may never know the person or people who littered our community with hate, but we can defeat their message with kindness and flyers of our own.  An example of that kindness arrived in the form of an e-mail from the library while I was writing this column:

I want you to know your influence from Monday’s story time with my 4.5 year old… He is in the kitchen right now singing, “If you’re happy and you know it shout OLE!” When my husband shouted “hooray!”, Jacoby said, “No, Daddy! OLE!” :)  He just soaked in the entire story time and loved it!  I just had Parent/Teacher Conference with my first grader’s teachers tonight and they didn’t realize there was a bilingual story time and asked me to send them the flyer.

While a few may be spreading messages of hate, many more are reaching out and positively affecting the lives of those around them.  I routinely hear these stories and see examples of selfless service from people in Albany every day.  Perhaps the most important thing we can do is teach our children kindness, both through lessons and example.  I know the world we live in today is far from perfect, but I also know there is much greater opportunity for people of all races, less tolerance of hate and more inclusion than there was in the world when I was “4.5” years old.

As we condemn the malicious acts of the few, I hope we will also commit ourselves to action.  Our words are important, but what we do every day will really give us cause to shout hooray and ole.

Albany’s Veterans’ Day Parade

Albany justifiably prides itself in our annual tribute to veterans for their service to our country.  Our parade is amazing and, perhaps even more remarkable is the response from citizens who line our streets to pay homage to military veterans.  I have been in the parade on a number of occasions, and I’m always impressed that so many people are willing to take a little time to express their gratitude to their fellow citizens.  We should probably find more reasons and ways to do that.

I have always felt a little guilty about my military service because most of my enlistment was spent behind a desk in Norfolk, Virginia, at the headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic.  I did spend some time at sea on a Canadian destroyer, but I’ve done many more dangerous assignments as a civilian than I ever did as a Navy journalist.  I really didn’t sacrifice much to serve in the military in comparison to my father who served in combat in two wars or his Canadian cousin who was killed in Holland during World War II.

My mother spent the war years in the U.S. Army at the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, which I suspect was something of an adventure for a young woman from coal country in Kentucky.  Like me, I don’t believe my mom was ever in any physical danger during the War, and I never heard her even hint that her service represented a sacrifice.  Perhaps we deserve some credit for accepting the obligation to go where we were sent, but I’ve never felt comfortable accepting praise for a four-year commitment that provided substantial benefits with little or no risk.

I have no similar hesitation when it comes to recognizing the many men and women who have made tremendous sacrifices on behalf of the rest of us.  I met many of them in Iraq who risked their lives every day trying to carry out difficult missions in a dangerous and frustrating environment.  Most of those I met accepted their separation from families and basic amenities with a good attitude and a commitment to make a difference.  I have met more young friends since moving to Albany who served two or three deployments in Afghanistan or Iraq and have now settled into productive community roles.  The lucky ones, like my father, emerged from their experience as strong, capable people who find it easy to keep daily challenges in perspective.  Less fortunate veterans struggle with the many negative effects of war.  The programs and services we offer to veterans are probably not enough to compensate for their experience.

Our parade is part of the civic infrastructure that makes Albany a strong community.  I am grateful to all those who make it possible and grateful to all who have sacrificed in many different ways to make their community and country a better place.