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Thanksgiving: Offering Our Harvest

Where I grew up, autumn is a season of first fruits. Work-hardened hands are connected to soft, generous hearts. Heritage is plowed into your heart-soil, tradition resonates in everyday rhythms, and praise is the crop that bursts forth from rich hard earth.

My farmer great-grandpa (we called him “Grandpa Dad”) would hold me on his knee, calloused hands cradling my four-year-old frame, and tell me stories. He painted pictures with soft, deep words: of silent movies and driving a four-horse team at age eight. Of his father, who traveled west in a covered wagon and homesteaded in wild, bare Idaho land. I can still see his handsome, wrinkled face; still feel him pull me into his strong, cologne-spiced hug; still hear the rich velvety tones of his voice—a voice that would always melt into chuckles of peace and praise.

Every fall, we sat around the rough wooden picnic table, shucking golden sweet corn: Grandpa Dad, Grandpa Wally, Daddy, my brothers. Grandpa Wally was a pepper-haired man with an infectious belly laugh, who waltzed with me as a baby and always told me, “Grace, you should go to a school out east. You should see the world.” He put on his overalls and work boots, and worked while the sun slumbers. To bed at 8 p.m., awake at 4 a.m. His sweet corn, fresh beef, and brown-speckled eggs filled our stomachs year round. Face brown and wrinkled from the sun, teeth glinting with gold eyes glinting with humor, his bass voice made the floor tremble. He raised five children to the gospel truth, to hard work, to the golden laughter of peace and praise.

Our Thanksgiving table was always heavy-laden with turkey, potatoes, stuffing, biscuits, all the food our stomachs could hold (and more). We weren’t all farmers, but we shared our labors, prepared with soft and calloused hands alike. We found rest for our souls at that table, though sometimes that meant words were left unspoken—stuffed under the rug or left outside the door in chilly November air.

I never appreciated that time when living it. There was a casual, steady reliability in it. There was no reason to expect anything else. Grandma’s candles and china, her careful place settings—they never changed. Neither, I thought, would we. But people change and move with the seasons. When I look out on sunsets and leaves painted cinnamon, I think of home. When I see a field of tall, golden-crowned corn, counting their glorious rows, I remember the harvest—always given to family.

I remember the warmth of Grandpa Dad’s red flannel shirt, his straw hat perched on snowy white hair, and his straight white teeth smiling joyously back at me. Though he passed on to glory at 96, I still see him in the harvest. His life trained ours—to work for God and for family, to give back the first fruits with praise.

I remember my Grandpa Wally’s words when I was about eleven years old: “Grace, when you grow up, you should write a story about me.” It was said jokingly. But the tan farmer with a twinkle in his eye, who waltzed and laughed and cried with me, taught me something invaluable about life: if you don’t share it with your family, there is no joy. He gave, and gave. He and his father put their shoulders to the plow, bore the fruit, and poured it forth with thanksgiving. Then they started over.

This age of impatience chokes the remembrance out of thanksgiving. And without remembrance, we grow ungrateful. We no longer have the strength, patience, or time to dig the hard furrows or sow the slowly-growing fruit. We demand, and forget to serve. Thanksgiving becomes a time of “dealing with” relatives, a time of bearing the silent torment of kinship. Family alienation threads its way through the holidays, bearing thorns instead of fruit. How do we redeem the crop?

Sometimes it starts with one seed, or two. Sometimes it starts with one farmer, willing to fight the horrors of Depression and drought to bring forth a harvest. I peel back the memories like a cornhusk, and stare at the golden treasure beneath. Memories of the flat farmland, the vibrant saffron sunsets, making applesauce with my sister, mother, and grandmother: they draw tears and smiles of peace and praise.

This will be my first Thanksgiving away from home. But the thanksgiving will not change. Family, wherever it lies, brims over with offering, tears, and laughter. The praise comes as we give our first fruits, wherever we might be.

about the author

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. In addition to The American Conservative, she has written for The Washington Times, the Idaho Press Tribune, The Federalist, and Acculturated. Follow Gracy on Twitter @GracyOlmstead.

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