The Thanksgiving Table

20141125_152322 (2)I saw her coming down the hall as I was setting up for The Hope of Glory class in assisted living. Her feet were well padded with several pairs of socks, making it possible for her to propel her wheelchair slowly along using one foot at a time.

“Nellie!” I called out. “Are you coming to Bible study? Would you like me to push you?” She answered yes to both questions and then lifted her feet straight in front of her to expedite our journey into the activities room where I wheeled her to the end of the table.

On the table was a multi-colored fall tablecloth. It was one I’d taken home to wash after an event at church, only I’d forgotten to take it in on Sunday, so it was still in the backseat of my car. I saw it when I reached for my book and plate of cookies for class. At the last second I grabbed the tablecloth also, thinking it might brighten someone’s day. Little did I know how much.

During class, I noticed how fascinated Nellie was with the tablecloth. “Oh look,” she said, pointing with her gnarled finger to specific places in the design. “There are apples and grapes on here. I could make apple juice with apples like that—and grape juice with those grapes, too!”

Our lesson was titled Attitude of Gratitude: How it’s important for us, as we age, to replace any grumbling with gratitude for the gift of living a long and productive life. We looked at key Scriptures on thankfulness, including how we are to give thanks in all circumstances as we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:18—not necessarily for all circumstances but in all circumstances. And we talked about how remembering what the Lord has done for us in the past can help us be more grateful in the present. But I’m not sure Nellie was listening.

I noticed her place both hands on the tablecloth, palms down, and begin smoothing out the wrinkles, just as women have done for generations when setting a Thanksgiving table. What is she thinking about, I wondered. Is she remembering Thanksgivings when she set a beautiful table in her home for her husband and children, or when she helped her grandmother smooth out her best linen tablecloth for a family Thanksgiving on the farm?

Nellie picked up one edge of the cloth and slowly ran her fingers along the hem to the corner. I wondered how many tablecloths she had laundered and folded in her lifetime.

I felt so blessed after class. We don’t have family coming home for Thanksgiving this year, so I won’t be setting a fancy table or stuffing a turkey. I’m fine with going out for a change, but seeing Nellie’s reaction to that tablecloth brought back a flood of treasured memories. I remembered my mother’s Thanksgiving table with mums in the turkey centerpiece, and all the tables I set for our family over the years.

Are you setting a table this year? If so, get out your best tablecloth. Smooth out the wrinkles with both hands. During dinner, record the faces gathered ‘round the table in your heart. We can’t always be with the people we’d like to be with on Thanksgiving due to weather, distance, resources, even death or divorce. But we can be grateful for those who are around the table with us, and be fully present for them.

At the end of class today, when I asked Nellie if she had any prayer requests to add to our list, she looked up at me and smiled. After a moment’s pause, she said, “Just for everyone to be happy.” Me, too, Nellie. Me too. Happy Thanksgiving.

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  1. alice scott-ferguson says:

    tears filled my eyes
    what wisdom filled words!

    warm and wonderful
    tender and mindful
    as ever special friend!

    this year more than ever
    i intend to be intentionally very present…

  2. Betty Van Liere says:

    You hit the spot again, Nancy. My daughter and I are going to a grandson for Thanksgiving although Jo Anne is bringing the turkey. It’ll be different because David is not the kind to fix it fancy,, but because he has asked us to come it feels extra special. Dinner I know, will be served on a card table. A side note: He even bought a special chair for me because his other one wasn’t, as he said,, as comfortable for me. He has given me one more reason to feel thankful.
    Love you, Nancy. Have a great Thanksgiving.

  3. Rolle Walker says:

    Nancy, Nellie reminds me of those who came before me. They who did the things Nellie was probably thinking. I will get out our prettiest table cloth, smooth out the wrinkles, and reminisce. Thank you for a touching story. Hug my dear friend, Jim, for me, and here’s my cyber-hug and Happy Thanksgiving wish to you.
    God is near,

  4. Loved it! Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Carolynn Shaw says:

    Very lovely Nancy! Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving! I attended your work shop recently and bought your book, ‘The Hope of Glory’. December 2nd will be my first time to lead ‘Meet With God’ at the Inn at Garden Plaza. I am using your book and am starting with Lesson 7, ‘Who are we really’! I am excited and ask that you pray for me and my husband as we step out of the boat and lead this group, a first time experience for us!!

    • It’s so encouraging for you to tell me you will be using The Hope of Glory, Carolynn! I’m sure it will go well and YES, I would be privileged to pray for you.

  6. Nancy,
    This post was so touching. God uses even small things… tablecloths and such… to iron out the wrinkles of aging and the loneliness that often accompanies the transition from family life to solitude. I’m so blessed to know how much you care and contribute to these seniors… how you bring God’s reassurance to them. I am grateful for your gifts but most of all for the way you sow love wherever you go. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

  7. Thank you for sharing this lovely Thanksgiving story, Nancy. Your descriptions of Nellie remind me of my mother before the dementia got so bad. She had a special table cloth with a grape stain in the middle of the pumpkin print. She never tried to scrub it out or bleach it away. It reminded her of the meal when Molly tried to pour grape juice for her little cousin Nic, and they spilled it on the tablecloth, then Andrew tried to “hide” it by putting the bowl of flowers over it. We all saw it, of course, but it was so sweet that we just enjoyed it.

    • What a sweet memory, Marylin. Thanks for sharing it. Clearly your mom understood what matters most–people! Happy Thanksgiving.

  8. Deborah Turner says:

    What a beautiful, touching piece, Nancy. I spent today with my youngest sister, Priscilla, who lives in Maynardville. She has been an angel on my shoulder through many of my recent years. Of course, I am always thankful for my son and his family, but today I feel a special thanks for my sister. And I thank you for such a thought-provoking blog, which I just happened to read today, Thanksgiving Day. I loved it.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Deborah. I felt a “sister hunger” this Thanksgiving, too. Maybe it’s because we know we are getting older and can’t take one another for granted anymore. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a blessed Christmas season.

  9. Absolutely divine. Thank YOU, Nancy, for reminding us through Nellie and your own recollections how to give thanks in everything. Even the simple joys of a beautiful tablecloth.

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