By James J. Jackson
Thanksgiving Day brings fond memories of family gatherings, food, fun and many happy times. The tradition of giving thanks to God for harvest goes back hundred of years, even before the United States existed.
The most famous Thanksgiving celebration took place in 1621 when the Indians and pilgrims joined together, exchanging food and customs; eating together in peace. In 1789, George Washington declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday; a time to give thanks to God for our many blessings.
My family had had many Thanksgiving traditions. Each of us had to memorize a Scriptural verse to recite as part of the blessing. Another tradition was inviting someone to dinner who would otherwise spend the holiday alone. One year in particular, my uncle invited a young West Indian man to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. James Mitchell, who was called ’Frenchie’, worked on the docks at my uncle’s trucking terminal and had no family in America.
My parents ended up renting him our basement apartment for several years. My cousin, Doris, two of my brothers and I were the only ones still living at home. I was seven; Mel was eight, and Sam was four years old. Frenchie, with his deep Jamaican accent, became like a big brother to us; playing pick up basketball games with us, going to our ball games and wrestling matches, tutoring us in schoolwork, etc.
Frenchie was a phenomenal percussions musician. He taught us to play several instruments, including bongo and conga drums, and even a small steel drum he made. He bought us our own drums, and took us to different beach houses on Lake Michigan, where we wowed the crowds by joining in on impromptu jam sessions conducted by various musicians who showed up to play.
When our family moved to Indiana, we lost contact with Frenchie, and, even after all of these years, we often wonder what happened to him. We learned many life lessons from him. He constantly reminded us how much God loved us by providing such excellent parents for us after the deaths of our birth parents (My father’s brother and sister-in-law adopted all ten of us after we were orphaned). I don’t know how Frenchie’s life turned out, but I’m certain that he never forgot the family who invited him to dinner, then took him in and treated him as one of us. Likewise, I will never forget my ‘big brother’ who taught me so many life lessons.
I continued the Thanksgiving Day tradition after I had a family of my own. We would often contact the International Studies Department at Michigan State University for the names of students or families who had no plans for Thanksgiving, and invite them to dinner. The experiences enriched our lives as we shared the bounty God provided with those who had so little. We met some very interesting people and my children learned a lot about other cultures.
One year, our pastor matched up people in the congregation who had no plans for or could not afford Thanksgiving dinner with those of us who were planning family feasts. One year, the Smith family joined us. The father, Norm couldn’t work due to failing health, and the mother, Fran was under-employed. They had one young daughter, Sonya. They enjoyed dining with us, and we enjoyed their company. We became close friends, until they moved away several years later. About ten years after they moved, Fran, the wife, contacted us and told us that Norm had died, and asked my wife, Donna, to sing his favorite song at his funeral. Donna was honored to do so. She has a marvelous gift of song, and has sung at many wedding and funerals.
We lost touch with Fran and Sonya for nearly twenty years. Recently, Sonya called to tell us that her mother was in hospice and death was eminent. Fran wanted Donna to sing at her funeral. I included this story to reflect upon how the Lord brings His people together in a kind of Christian friendship and fellowship that withstands time and space.
The Bible urges us to”…”Give thanks to the Lord, for his mercy endures forever.”. Thanks be to God that Christian friendship also endures. Have a Blessed Thanksgiving.