I won't tell you the brand name of the stuffing, because I'm not in the business of giving free shout-outs to corporate entities, but let's just say I made it on top of the stove.
The stuffing was about the beginning and the end of my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner this year. I left the rest to more talented and gifted people.
It was actually the first time my wife and I have hosted my family for this particular holiday. It was our first Thanksgiving at our new home in Charles City, and I thought it was a good idea to invite them up to see our new place, our new town, our new life.
Of course, I probably should have asked my wife first, before I extended the invitations — a mistake I'm not likely to make again.
Not that it made any difference, as my wife is a good sport, a forgiving spirit and a natural hostess. She was more than up to the task, and only complained a little.
Everyone made it except for my oldest daughter, who spent Thanksgiving in Dallas, Texas. (Insert inappropriate joke about Texans here.)
My youngest daughter was the first to arrive, actually showing up Wednesday afternoon, before I was even home from work. She let herself in and made herself at home. She is a newly-anointed environmental scientist, has just completed a paid internship and has some leads on the next step in her career.
My sister and her family arrived late Wednesday night, from the Quad Cities. She is a speech pathologist and her husband is an engineer. They have two sons, one in middle school and one in grade school. My nephews.
They also brought their newest family member along, a four-month old white Labrador puppy named "Cuddles."
My parents, retired teachers, arrived Thursday morning and our family circle was complete.
Snacks and drinks were already out, the Vikings were scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and dinner was scheduled for 1 p.m.
After a brief discussion, it was determined that the first half of the Vikings game could be watched live, the second half recorded and watched later that afternoon. Dinner would be eaten between the two halves, as the TV gets shut off when dinner is served.
There was prayer, there was feasting, there was napping, there were walks around the neighborhood, there was lively conversation, and there were games played.
There was some complaining about the current state of political affairs, but not much. There was no arguing.
Stories were told, tales of joy, tales of woe.
One nephew talked about his success this fall in youth football. The other nephew needed to rehearse, as he was auditioning for a role in a school stage musical. He wants the part of "Narrator."
Dad talked football and hunting. My daughter and brother-in-law talked about what they expect from the upcoming "Star Wars" movie. My mother and wife talked about making vacation plans next summer. My sister talked about the stress of needing vehicle repairs and replacing a furnace.
My family, this strange family of mine. I am required to love them, and they are required to love me.
We all talked about how good the food was, and how nice it was, that we could all get together.
This was my second Thanksgiving on borrowed time. The first, a year ago, I had only been eating solid food for a few days, and I was only able to stay awake for a few hours at a time. I didn’t feel very thankful then, I was only feeling pain and sickness.
I wasn’t sure what I had to be thankful for last year, except for the fact that I was still alive.
The fight with cancer had almost taken me out, and there was still a lot of fighting left to do. Even though I was lucky to be alive, I did not feel gratitude. I did not feel much of anything.
So I didn’t talk much last year, I didn’t laugh much, and I didn’t hear much, either.
I felt much better this year, but still, I didn’t talk much — I mostly listened.
And I listened a lot. I heard sounds of joy, sounds of sadness, sounds that come from the taste of good food, and sounds of, "No Cuddles! Don't do that!"
Mostly, I heard laughter. That's a nice sound, laughter.
I did not choose any of these people, except for my wife. The rest of them were just there, in my life. My family — strange, but not strangers.
Yes, I made the stuffing, and I did a lot of things I couldn’t do a year ago. I played games, I distributed hugs, I ate too much, and I listened to these people laugh.
One thing I know for certain, when I hear these strange people laugh, I feel completely at ease.
I heard a lot of laughter Thursday.
And I knew what I was thankful for.