By Neal Lemery
One year at Thanksgiving, Mom told me to set an extra place setting. We’d counted up all the relatives who would be coming, and I was curious as to who she was adding. By my count, we hadn’t forgotten anyone and the place settings matched the numbers of who was coming.
“Oh, it’s nice to have an extra setting, just in case,” she said. “You never know who might come.”
I was very curious, but she wouldn’t answer my persistent questions.
Thanksgiving morning came and we were all put to work on preparations for the meal. My dad had to go into work for an hour, and not long after he left, the phone rang. It was my dad.
“That’s fine,” she said. “Of course. No problem. The table’s already set and there’s an extra chair.”
She turned to us after she hung up the phone.
“We’ll be having another guest for dinner,” she said. She smiled then, and started humming a tune, as she turned back to the stove.
Sure enough, my dad arrived home with our mystery guest. She was a co-worker, and had no other place to go for Thanksgiving. Her smile said it all, how grateful she was to be included.
Every year after that, we always set an extra place for Thanksgiving. One year there was a flood and some neighbors couldn’t make it to their family dinner, so we set up another table and had another half dozen dinner guests.
One year, it was one of my friends in high school, needing a refuge from a tough time on the home front.
As always, my folks asked no questions, and passed no judgement. The unexpected guest was welcomed with open arms and the first serving of turkey.
My wife and I continued the tradition, welcoming friends, making sure there was a place at the table.
The first Thanksgiving we had our foster son, we made sure he felt welcome, as family gathered to enjoy the holiday.
And, as if on cue, the phone rang, and I heard myself saying, “Sure, of course there’s room. We’d love to have him.”
I made a special trip while the turkey was cooking, and brought his brother home for the weekend. We made sure to make him feel welcome, a part of the family. He responded with a tear running down his cheek, as he sat down in the extra chair.
Years later, after my folks had passed away, and our kids were starting their own families and had moved away, it was just my wife and I who would be home for dinner.
“Let’s set another place,” my wife said. “You never know.”
A few days before, she called first one and then another friend, friends who were single, and who, it turned out, would be alone for Thanksgiving.
“Of course, you’re invited. We’ll expect you at 1,” I heard her say.
We set two extra plates that year, and the Thanksgiving celebration became even more special, as two lonely people found a warm home and bountiful table to share, and our friendship grew. Thanksgiving took on a new, richer meaning that year.
One of our traditions, just as we sit down for the meal, is for everyone to share their gratitudes with the rest of us. There is so much to be grateful in our lives, and we so often tend to skip over giving thanks on Thanksgiving. Instead, we slide into talk about a lot of other subjects, forgetting what the day is really about.
Thanksgiving truly is a day to celebrate our gratitudes and to give thanks. And, often what I am most grateful for is that extra chair, that extra place setting. I’m grateful for the company of someone who would otherwise be alone on the day we gather and give thanks for all that we have. And that list begins with being thankful for each other.