By Rev. John Howard Farmer
Visit the Irvington Baptist Church website
Ah, Thanksgiving starts the holidays
This past Sunday we skipped church and bussed a patriotic contingent from IBC to the Berkeley Plantation, on the James River. We had a spectacular time celebrating the 400th Anniversary of America’s first Thanksgiving. The day was beautiful. The food tasty and our group sublime.
Having once lived in the Massachusetts Colony, it was refreshing to acknowledge our Virginia heritage and to share it with our church family along with grandsons Porter and Nolan Pittman. It was a far cry from our earliest Irvington Thanksgiving.
Alas, poor Esther (Williams that is, 1921–2013) we knew thee well. Let me explain. Newly into our marriage my sweet bride announced her resolve to stay home that Thanksgiving and have family in. It was her second, though grandest family meal at the Baptist Parsonage, Goodwin Hall (built 1901). Nineteen persons eventually rallied ‘round the dining room table. I am blessed to have been adopted (married, borrowed and given) into so many wonderful families. I did moisten an eye a bit as I recounted how many were absent. Some were memories, as death had knocked. Others were absent because they were gathered at tables afar. They were there in my heart nonetheless. Also, God invited new faces and hearts to dine.
Now back to Esther. Hazel had bought our turkey early and kept it in the vault at the Bank until early week. She brought the bird home and began the directions reading and thawing operation with which so many of you cooks will identify. The plump little bird held court in our two-sided sink. She bobbed chest down, butt up. Overturned, she repeatedly backstroked across the sink so often that I named her Esther (after 1950s swimmer, movie star). Well, Esther truly gave her all. Dried off from her kitchen swim she hit the oven with delight. She was more than appreciated at the table that Thursday. Hardly scraps enough were left for a decent turkey sandwich by Friday.
My Thanksgiving prayers were lifted for all those who have made such a day possible. From our settling ancestors (both on the James and in the Massachusetts Bay Colony) to our parents who brought us into this world, I found moments of deep appreciation.
Hard on the heels of full-belly departing family we heard a rattling at the closet door. Our Christmas tree was demanding to be “out.” Well, I tripped over and removed all the things that thought to rest on the carton since we wouldn’t need it until later, right. It was later. Eventually box upon box hit the living room floor until assembly was possible. First the stand, then the tree. Branch upon branch teased “you still have to put the lights on, ha, ha, ha.”
By Saturday evening we threw the switch and eureka: We had lights! Ornaments old, collections from our two families, merged. The tree sagged with the love of Christmases past and Christmases future. I come from the pick-um and hang-um school of tree decorating. My bride comes from the place and time school. Her familiar ornaments already had reserved branch tips. They were reintroduced to the Farmer family heirlooms. Tediously, with great measurement and care, spectacular took on refreshed meaning.
Now, you may have heard a rumor about my tree spirit at Christmas. Hazel is unperturbed by my past grievous sins; my lack of bubbling enthusiasm for celebrating tree-time. That same year she’d volunteered me to decorate the tree that the Bank of Lancaster (now Virginia Commonwealth Bank) offered at auction to raise money for our local YMCA. So, the 4504 Irvington Road tree was in fact my second of that season. Such could ruin my reputation as a Grinch.
Ah, Christmas. Yes, it is bigger than tree decorating: I keep reminding myself that truly the greatest love story ever is that in which God saw a dying humanity and reached down to alleviate our struggle. He took the innocence of a tiny baby and required a blood sacrifice.
In a stable rude God gathered family dear, two and four legged. I feel warm all over just contemplating how precious was that birth. That is a message holy that we can incorporate into all our seasonal preparations, celebrations.
Like the restructured family at stable and table I have been woven into all sorts of new relationships. The ones that carry me forward are the ones in which the love and care of other individuals have ministered to me in ways beyond my fondest hopes and dreams. I once thought my celebrating was over. Hazel brought a son and daughter to our table, our tree. The Coan Church invited my little boy and his family “home.” My hands shake at the wonder of it all. God is so good to me.