At the farm this morning, a seasonal chill slowly gave way to an optimistic fried-egg sun simmering on an icy blue sky. The weak attempt of a frost from the night before surrendered, turning to a harmless dew that produced thousands of quivering rainbows in the diamond strewn grass. Coat weather slowly evolved to jacket weather and finally to shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows.
Casper and Jelly Belly, freed from the confines of the farmhouse, took a constitutional hike, fanning out across the tufted fields before returning to the yard to wallow in the crisp air and upon the moderating lawn. The sun caught the brilliance of their black cat hair which, delightfully, reflected as pure silver. B-Man, 'Stache, White Kitty, and Cali Cat wandered cautiously from the stalls of the nearly two hundred year old barn, finding their own patch of sunshine in which to preen and groom the morning away. Momma Kitty remained staunchly solitary, patroling the edge of the woods, with careful posture and watchful eye for whichever one of her rivals might decide to swoop upon her unannounced and most certainly unwelcome.
I have a friend who jokingly claims that I have a cat ranch. It often occurs to me that he might be correct.
With great effort and no small amount of back strain, I moved the headstones of Benji, Gidget, and Little One closer to Shirley's gravesite. It was just one more small repair job sitting around waiting to be done since the April tornado. Their graves remain in the backyard of Mom's former house, unbeknownst to the new occupants. No harm, no foul. I certainly couldn't move their graves, but I could at least preserve the headstones, and, at least to my way of thinking, their memories. Kelsie's ashes are with Mom, just as she requested...just about every week for two years prior to her death. If you were one of Margie's dogs, you never got treated "like a dog."
For many, Thanksgiving is being with families or missing the families they want to be with. Maybe both. For me, Thanksgiving is remembering the old days...the days when my parents were younger than I now am and my grandparents were...well...not much older than my current age. And there are new generations creating their own versions of the old days. I'm just not. Though I think of my parents often, it's on the holidays that I think about them the most. And missing them becomes most acute.
I inherited my Mom's love for animals. Heck, let's be honest. I inherited her fanaticism for animals. Take Little One, for example. She was part of an odd threesome that Mom discovered one day on the way to the farm. There was an old abandoned school house that squatted several yards off the dirt road, becoming a makeshift haven for three odd fellows: a dog, a cat, and a rooster. Those three were the best of friends, you never saw one without seeing them all, and, as did every animal that came into contact with my mother, they took to her. It probably helped that she stopped every day to feed them. The three amigos preferred to take their meals together, so my mother would open a can of cat food, a can of dog food, and spread a handful of chicken feed, each and every day, rain or shine, sleet, snow, or sun, and provide them with a comforting audience while they chowed down. There were no days off, no holidays, no every other Sunday. Each day, they listened for Mom's Jeep and were lined up and ready to dine before the dust settled under her tires. Unfortunately, mankind intervened, and some not so nice fellows shot the cat and the rooster, but the dog managed to escape. Mom found the cat and rooster and gave them a proper burial. Little One got to go home in the Jeep.
Kelsie was found on a sub-freezing January day at the end of the long driveway that winds to the farmhouse. She lay beneath a dead sibling. Kelsie was also assumed dead but when Mom placed the tiny pup in the palm of her hand, she noticed just the slightest of movement. Wrapping the little ice cube of a puppy in her sweater, she hurried her back to the farmhouse and performed a famous Margie Miracle. Kelsie grew to weigh sixty pounds and lived another ten years.
Our four-legged friends have similar stories. Casper and Jelly Belly were on death row at the Animal Shelter, hours away from the dreaded walk. B-Man, 'Stache, White Kitty, and Cali Cat were holed up under the porch of a building on busy Highway 64 probably only days away from death by speeding car. Or hungry coyote. Or callous human. And some of you already know that we caught some beings, questionably human, tossing Momma Kitty and three kittens out into the woods from the trunk of a car.
There was not even the mew of a cat at the farm this morning. Other than two loud shots from across the river, likely fired at some unsuspecting deer, the only sounds I can easily recall are the raspy rattle of the breeze through brittle leaves and the thumps and bumps of an industrious woodpecker, searching for some tasty morsel just beneath the outer layer of bark of an ancient, rotting elm. This was a morning in which the whole landscape seemed to be anointed with the Balm of Gilead. Not one shred of the hate and anger and rage that is running rampant in other parts of the country and world wormed its way into the late autumn peacefulness of this part of rural Tennessee.
And I was thankful for that.
I was also thankful for my ancestors who decided to settle among acres of woods and pastures along the Elk River and worked and managed those acres through hard times and times of plenty. I was thankful for a mother who had a sweet, angelic connection with nature and animals and a father who tolerated, and even at times, shared it. I am thankful for grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and the Thanksgiving feasts of the past. I am thankful for tradition because, in frequently troubled times like these, tradition is a tangible and accessible branch jutting from an otherwise steep and stony precipice. The saving grace, if you will.
I'm even thankful for that perservering woodpecker whose percussion lent excellent accompaniment to the leaf stirring breezes as well as sweet accentuation to the light, heavenly silence of this wonderful Thanksgiving Eve.
And I thank God for allowing me to not only experience a wonderful, soul-enriching morning, but to have the good sense to realize how blessed I am for the experience. And for comprehending how rare and sacred these simple pleasures are.
I wish something just as rare and sacred for all of you.