On Being Thankful

Webster’s New World Dictionary does it this way: “Thanks’giv’ing. 1. A formal public expression of thanks to God. 2. An annual U.S. holiday.”

We kicked off this week of being thankful at one of our regular scholarship dinners Sunday evening. The meal always involves a prayer of thanks, great food, and lively conversation about recent or distant moments for which we are grateful – weddings, health, time with friends and family, and those who deeply enriched our lives before dementia, Alzheimer’s, or time led them on to their final rewards. We smiled and laughed and commiserated – a good start to this week of Thanksgiving.

I’d guess we’re all still thinking about these moments and the folks who made them.

Every year about now, I savor the last Thanksgiving with my stepdad – my Dad – Ray Fontes. He fell madly in love with my Mom when I was finishing high school. Quick with a quip and grateful for all he had, he showed me how to pull a family together with humor, acceptance, and a big loving heart. In exchange, I taught him to hunt antelope – I got the better of that trade.

At the turn of this century, Dad’s Alzheimer’s had him in a nursing home. I bailed him out for Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Millie=s. He ate well, and seemed content, but Alzheimer=s kept taking him somewhere far away from the rest of us. Back at the nursing home we hung out for a few hours. We talked about hunting and fishing and memorable Thanksgivings. Now and again, his eyes lit up.

He smiled when I talked about that 1961 holiday. I was a DJ at KATN, Boise’s small country (country-western in those days) station. I produced a daily program, “Idaho Outdoors,” and interviewed folks like outdoor writer Ted Trueblood, Idaho Game & Fish’s mouthpiece, or anybody else who did fun outdoor stuff. One of my sponsors was George Dovel, who flew people back into the Salmon River Wilderness – River of No Return country.

George kept offering to fly me up onto the middle fork of the Salmon, to stay at one of the camps for a couple days. That late November, I got a few days off for a wilderness deer hunt. He warned me that I might be late getting back if the camp got snowed in, but I knew that couldn’t happen, so off we went. He dropped me at the Mahoney Bar camp, run by a Swedish guy and his wife, Maude.

Three planes were parked at the end of the dirt landing strip scraped from the mountainside above the river. Three women and six men were at the camp, in from California and Boise. They made me welcome.

After a good hunt and a relaxing couple days in camp, I was packing my gear when it started snowing. “Happens almost every year,” Maude said. “So what do we do?” “Well,” she said, “We plan Thanksgiving dinner!” Everybody pitched in gathering firewood or herbs, or preparing food. For that Thanksgiving day feast, we ate most of a deer, a small turkey stuffed with wild sage dressing, rolls and several pies – all prepared in or on a sheepherders’ sheet metal stove. After dinner, we played cards until the moon was up.  And talked about being thankful.

Ten days after he’d lifted me from Boise, George dropped me back in civilization. As I climbed out of his Supercub, I could still smell that wilderness kitchen. I remember nothing about how I made up the week of work I missed, but every Thanksgiving, the aromas put me back in that camp of thankful people.

That business about talking “with” dad was not entirely true. His eyes seemed to light up at the story, but he never said a word. Mostly, he stared off into some other dimension I couldn’t see. He=d chuckle when I said something I thought might be funny, but mostly I beat my gums about that Thanksgiving in the wilderness. And pretended we were, again, actually conversing about that beloved country up the River of No Return.

I am forever thankful for having Dad in my life – and for that final “conversation” moment.

There is so much more on my list – probably on yours, too. I am thankful that my grandkids all have a sense of belonging to the earth – that my Hucklings take time away from their “survival” obligations to chase wild plants and insects and fish and game and to taste wild air with my grand-Hucklings.

I’m thankful for this place with its wild things and wild places we can enjoy most anytime of the year nearby. I am thankful for the fish and game which sustain my family. And that we are able to harvest it within a couple hours of our home.

I’m thankful for the people who enrich our lives with their laughter and spirit and faith and love as we daily celebrate Paradise. I am grateful to live in a place where gentle breezes bring us ever-changing fresh air.

So, here=s to the season: to food made medicine with gratitude and prayer; and to your good health from joyfully consuming gifts of the earth.

Happy holidays.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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