Why I'm Not Going Home for Thanksgiving
From 2000+ miles away I listened as my dad told me a heart wrenching story about a camping trip long ago. His older brother had just died at the too-soon age of 32 and the Annual Taunton Family Camping Trip was feeling the loss acutely. The sun set early, as it always does this time of year, and the kids starting disappearing to their tents as sleepiness overcame the desire to stay up as late as the adults. Soon, there was only one man left standing, warming his work-hardened hands by the fire, eyes bloodshot and staring off into the distance, seemingly at nothing. His son, my dad, always mindful of people’s suffering joined him. After a moment he ventured a question to break the intense silence, “Dad, you going to bed soon?” Then the pause that always prefaces words that you know will never convey the depth of emotion you have bottled up inside you, before at last my grandfather spoke, “I’m just sittin’ here listenin’ to the motorboats comin’ down the river and thinkin’, ‘this is going to be the boat that brings Donald out, he’ll be on the next ride in.’ But I know that’ll never be true again and, son, I just can’t go to bed because it hurts too much.” Fast forward to present day as I’m on the other end of the phone line listening to the pain in my dad’s voice as he tells me about this vivid memory. I’m in Seattle, he’s in Florida, and the annual camping trip which I’ve never missed is just four days away. As he tells me, “Now you’ll know how I feel this year when you’re not here. I’ll be sitting by that campfire listening for the motorboat that has my baby girl on it” my heart aches. This is the man who has done everything for me in life. Not the unimportant things like buying me toys, but the really significant things like giving me the most truly wonderful gift a girl can have: a loving father who displays all the strong and decent qualities a man should have and sets the bar high enough that you won’t settle for subpar. This is the man who taught me to hunt, fish, and camp. The man that pushed four-year-old me in a wheel barrow every Sunday to a picnic in the woods where he’d tell me stories that he pulled from his imagination just for my enjoyment. The man who pitched me a thousand baseballs so I’d feel confident in swinging for the fences. The man that would brush one tangled strand of hair at a time to spare me even a moment of discomfort. The man that made me feel like the most special little girl in the entire universe despite raising me along with thirty other kids at a time. And here he was, contemplating a week where he’d finally relinquish his role as the head of the children’s home that had been his life for the last 40 years and the thought of his little girl missing the camping trip for the first time.
Thursday came around and he gave me one last call to make sure a miracle hadn’t happened to allow me to come. It went straight to voicemail. He sat around the campfire as dinner was served, lost so deep in thought that he barely tasted his food. Listening as another motorboat pulled in and not allowing himself to hope I’d be on it. As I stepped out onto shore and skirted around my mother whose face registered complete surprise at seeing me, I locked eyes with my daddy and rushed over to hug his neck. His all-encompassing hug lasted for what felt like ages and when we finally pulled apart I could see his eyes were brimming with as many unshed tears as my own. He said, “Baby, I’m just so happy you’re here.” And I replied, “It’s just like your story dad, except that motorboat did come in carrying your little girl at least one more time.”
So today, Thanksgiving, I work from my apartment in Seattle to make up for missing work to surprise my dad. I'm sorely missing my mom's pecan pie, my grandma's warm rolls, and card games with the whole crew, but for the chance of giving my dad even a moment of pure happiness to make up for the countless perfect memories he's given me, it is completely worth it. I'm so incredibly thankful this Thanksgiving that I grew up knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was loved.