A ‘family’ Thanksgiving

by Colonel Keitha Needham On Thanksgiving mornings during my childhood, I would awake to the tantalizing smells of turkey roasting, mixed with the pungent aromas of sage and onions. Adding to the delectable aroma would be pumpkin and mince pies cooling in the kitchen.

Soon, I would be ‘helping’ mother prepare the condiment trays with stuffed celery, carrot sticks, etc., and setting the table in the dining room with a damask cloth and the best silverware and china our quarters owned. Grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles and cousins would be arriving with assorted contributions to the feast. Dad would be sharpening the carving knife in preparation for working his art on Tom Turkey. We would all be gathered around a dining room table absolutely groaning with delectable food, holding hands and thanking God for all his blessings. The scene could serve as a Norman Rockwell painting.


We will recognize, respect and celebrate our cultural distinctives. Such action will be reflected in placement of personnel, in styles of Christian worship, in delivery of services and in communications

As a married woman officer with small children of my own, I could hardly wait to create these same memories for my growing family. Then reality set in: we were living thousands of miles away from grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles. Thanksgiving day either found us eating with the huge extended family of the School for Officers’ Training or in a corps with the opportunity to feed hundreds of lonely or disadvantaged people. One November morning I remember struggling with the idea of sending my kids to a babysitter on Thanksgiving while I worked at the corps before coming home and fixing Thanksgiving dinner for my family! The more I thought about it, the more impossible it seemed, and the more depressed I became. Superwoman was dead!

That day my 5-year-old, Heather, came home from kindergarten dressed as a Thanksgiving ‘Indian.’ Her teacher had the children make Indian vests, headbands and feathers from brown paper bags. “Mom,” Heather asked, “could I wear this outfit to the corps on Thanksgiving and help entertain the old people?” Out of the mouth of babes! Yes! Of course! Thank you, Lord! I could immediately envision Heather and Holly greeting and ‘entertaining’ under Dad’s supervision while I attended to the kitchen and serving. Then, miraculously, a wonderful older couple in the corps phoned and asked us if we would like to come to their house for Thanksgiving dinner following our corps involvement. They explained that they were thousands of miles away from their family and wanted to ‘adopt’ us. And that was how a very special, new Thanksgiving ‘tradition’ was born. For five wonderful years we had the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving dinner at the corps for thousands of people, including countless Meals on Wheels dinners, and then sitting down to a lovingly prepared home-cooked meal in this saintly couple’s home.

Through the years our Thanksgivings have included precious family times when we were able to host the traditional dinners in our home…to equally precious moments of fellowship in institutional settings where the idea of ‘family’ expanded to include people of all races and nationalities. As the first Thanksgiving approached after being appointed principal of the International College for Officers in London, we decided to hold the traditional Thanksgiving feast and invite the officers to share something from their culture which helped them express their gratitude to God for his blessings. Twenty-six officers representing every race and every zone in the Army shared; some confessed feelings of bitterness toward people of another country and asked forgiveness; others shared deep feelings of gratitude for God’s miraculous provision in their lives. I thought of my narrow interpretation of Thanksgiving all those years ago, asked for forgiveness and thanked the Lord for broadening my vision to include a worldwide family encompassing an incomparably rich tapestry of tradition and caring.

Now my grown children are making their own Thanksgiving traditions. I’m so grateful God has given us a glimpse of many different models of celebrating, serving, and inclusiveness.

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