It’s been two years…and yet this story feels fresh and once again, in just a few days, we will pass the corn kernels around the table and say thanks. Perhaps this tradition could find itself a new home around your table?
I found them in her dining room tucked into a lowboy drawer: a sandwich sized Ziploc bag of corn kernels. I looked around at the china hutch full, the table shrunk small. She passed away a week ago and yesterday we packed in tight, arms around each other, celebrating her life. She was redhead spunky and arms always wide to receive us. I choked out the eulogy and together Andrew and I handed out the bread and the wine.
Now neither she nor grandpa lived there. The ranch house felt hollow. Full of stuff, but empty of…her. We wandered around smelling her perfume, running our hands over last winter’s wool coats. I took in my breath sharply as I found the peach blouse hung up in the basement like it had just been pressed for her to run down and button up. There was a black and white picture tucked into her top drawer, all my family standing on Crescent Beach smiling at her, Xavier a tiny bundle folded in my arms just five weeks old. Slippers were parked beside the bed where she had slid them off before being driven to the nursing home. She kept falling. Alzheimer’s stealing her life one week at a time.
I wandered back into the dining room. Grandpa didn’t want all this cherry furniture or the red and gold china he carried home from Malaysia to go to strangers. The furniture was packed into a Uhaul for my house, the china wrapped for future Thanksgivings at Aaron’s. The mourning was fresh but we were all together and needed to work through grief. We gathered in the dining room looking through drawers and found the bag of kernels with the brass snuffer. I squeezed the bag in my hands, hundreds of kernels gathered and handed out and then gathered again Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving.
This is where we would pull the dining room table out large, slide in the leaves, float out an ironed white table cloth, lap-sized white napkins. The turkey was cut with the electric knife, covered with foil and slid back into the oven, side dishes covered and fighting for space on the racks. And then we would gather around the set table, three tiny corn kernels alone on the center of each large plate. Just seeing them would make Uncle Chris groan, “Can’t we just do two kernels this year? The mashed potatoes are gonna get cold!” But, we all knew that when the stories came out, the thanksgivings of the year, his eyes would get as misty as anybody’s.
And this is how the tradition works: each kernel represents a thanks. As a small bowl is passed around the table, thanksgivings gathered one at a time. The bowl makes its way around the table a full three times, corn kernels dropped in and clinking. The kids inevitably give thanks for their family, but they too are being warmed by the gifts held out. “I’m thankful for my wife who encouraged me through the job loss.” “God has been so good to us, carrying us through this move.” We lift up the stories in one massive eucharisteo.
And this is when the stories of faith journeys usually came out. This is where we heard “the old old stories.” Grandpa’s thanks rose loud as he sobbed, told the story of when his parents became Jesus-followers and Scripture lovers, how God had transformed the ugly twisted in his family. Our stones of remembrances were shrunk into kernels, but they still held weight. We would turn them around in our hands, feel the white tips, the dimpled sides. Our Ebenezers.
And this is when I would hold my Nona’s hand as she silently watched the answers to her prayers. This year we will share stories, give thanks for her life.
And you friends, what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?