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.