In my 4th-grade year the week before Thanksgiving, my dad and mom announced to all 4 kids that come January dad’s company was transferring him to a new town. Dad said we all would move in early January. Mom was 3 weeks away from giving birth to baby number 5.
Having lived all 10 years in the same northwestern Kansas rural community of Hoxie, that Thanksgiving announcement made me angry, scared and worried. I told dad that making us move right after Christmas was stupid and unfair. I didn’t want to leave both sets of grandparents and my 4th grade friends, especially Kim and Debbie.
Today I can look back over the decades with a heart of thanksgiving for the hundreds of friends who have crossed my path. But that November back in the day when news came of dad’s immediate transfer, I was ungrateful.
Dad and mom always taught us to be grateful for what we had. Over the next 8 weeks, with a lot of encouragement from my dad and mom saying everything was going to be okay, my attitude improved and almost imperceptibly, gratitude slowly grew in my 10-year-old heart. In fact, that kernel of thankfulness grew right up to my very last day when I was a student in that second-floor 4th-grade classroom.
On my final day, I did feel thankful. Even in my final minutes in that classroom, however imperfectly, I tried to show it.
That Friday, my teacher, Miss Karnes, had a going away party for me at the end of the school day. After my classmates had all left, I stayed afterward to clean out my desk. Lifting up the top of my desk, I stuffed a mishmash of big chief tablet sheets inside a brown paper bag Miss Karnes had given me.
Kim, my long-time, faithful friend, stood beside me, not saying a word. Suddenly I turned to Kim and told him to go get Debbie, a girl in my class I liked. Her dad was the city attorney. Debbie was smart and funny and pretty and poised. I told Kim that I want to kiss her. “Please go ask Debbie to come back to the room.”
Without saying a word, Kim bolted out of that 4th-grade classroom, and ran down the hallway looking for Debbie. When I looked up, Debbie stood in the classroom doorway in her red coat and red hat.
“Oh, I didn’t mean,” I said. Repeating myself, I said more firmly, “I didn’t mean it.”
Debbie looked completely puzzled. She turned and left as quickly as she had appeared.
My buddy Kim ambled back to me without saying a word.
Now, did I really want to kiss Debbie? Of course not. I never had kissed a girl in my life. And yet, somehow those were the words that came from the lips of a skinny 10-year-old boy with red hair and freckles, and on that day in particular, a boy who was feeling lots of emotions.
Here is what I wish I could have said:
“Debbie, I called you back here because I wanted to say a special thank you to you for being my friend. You are smart and nice and full of self-assurance. Thank you so much for being such a good influence on me. It means a lot to me to have had a friend like you. Good-bye, Debbie. I am so thankful for you, and I wish you all the best.”
But what 10-year-old boy has that kind of presence, or those kind of words? As I said good-bye to Debbie, what I really wanted was the chance to express my gratitude which, that day, was jumbled up with painful emotions of grief and sorrow. The next day I was moving from the only place where I’d ever lived. And frankly, I had rarely, if ever before, felt those painful emotions.
Indeed I did tell Kim that I wanted to kiss Debbie. When it nearly came to pass, though, the only words I could must were these feeble four: “I didn’t mean it.”
So Debbie didn’t get to hear my heart-felt thankfulness for her friendship that afternoon. Deep down, I still like to imagine and hope that she somehow still knew that I so appreciated her friendship.
Now, decades later, there are people in my life, already during this very Thanksgiving season, with whom I have shared my heartfelt thanks for being so special to me. I know there are people in your life this Thanksgiving with whom you would like to share this kind of loving thanks.
Well, you can. This is the month of Thanksgiving, and there is no better time to it. So who are those people who have been so good and so kind to you? You know who they are. Start your list. You probably know all sorts of people who would love to hear your words of gratitude for what their friendship has met to you.
Now don’t dilly-dally. Go to them them this week and talk face to face. That’s the best way. If you can’t talk face to face, a lovely hand-written note will suffice.
In this world of constant texting, believe it or not, there is such a thing as a hand-written note.
I’ll even prime the pump and give you your opening line. “I’ve been wanting to tell you from the bottom of my heart how deeply thankful I am for you.”
Say it just like that.
Then just step back, smile from ear to ear and add the four words that eluded me so long ago:
“I really mean it.”