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Posted: December 7, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Thankful through thick and thin

You know it's the holidays when the Publix commercials start playing - over and over and over.
This year one shows various sized tables set for a meal, some with a lavish spread and others with simpler fare, one with boxes being unpacked around the table - but they're all meals at home.

There is one family I think they missed.

A few years ago I was working in a retail store while going back to college.
Classes ended Tuesday night, so I planned to hit the road as soon as I punched out Wednesday to make the trip to Oxford for Thanksgiving.

My boss informed me a week before Thanksgiving that department managers had to return to work late Wednesday night for pricing, so I could not leave until Thanksgiving Day.
Not wishing to spend half my holiday on the road with such an early opening on Friday, I made plans to spend my first Thanksgiving alone.

I certainly was not feeling very thankful - for my job with no benefits or health insurance, for rude customers or for friends who would all be home with their own families.

At that moment, it was tough to find anything for which to be thankful - so my call to a local shelter to volunteer serving Thanksgiving dinner was more an act of desperation to not feel so lonely.
On Thanksgiving morning, I headed to the shelter ready for an infusion of good feelings for doing a good deed.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one with this idea because with volunteers crowding the kitchen, it seemed that I wasn't needed at all.

Soon, however, we were assigned jobs and the guests began to arrive.

The men sitting at my table fit my idea of whom we would be serving that day: middle-aged and older men, living in shelters or on the street, unemployed, and wearing well-worn clothing.

The other guests who filled the tables under the large tent, however, made me take a step back: some were families with young children, wearing worn but well-cared for clothes.

My first thought was how awful they must feel to eat Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter, and how I'd rather have hidden at home with a sparse meal than to eat here.

As the first holiday after Hurricane Katrina, I'm sure there was a larger than usual number of such families dining far away from what had been normal in years past.

This wasn't the "feel good" feeling I had expected for spending my holiday serving this meal. In fact, I can't say at that moment I felt very good at all.

I thought about how unfair life can be - how they didn't want to be here any more than I wanted to be alone for the holiday.

Watching them from the corner of my eye, though, I noticed they were not trying to wolf down their food to hurry out of the shelter.

They were not trying to avert their children's eyes from the people around them.
To my surprise, this family appeared as if they were sitting in the middle of a restaurant enjoying a gourmet Thanksgiving meal.

They smiled at their table's host as food was delivered and talked with their children and the other guests as though this was any Thanksgiving meal.

Even now, I have tears in my eyes as I think how this family taught me - by example - how to be thankful for whatever life brings.

Life doesn't happen according to my plans, but life is good.

The economy might be shaky, world power might be shifting, but through thick and thin I know I am fortunate.

I pledge my head to clearer thinking, as each day I learn something new is a day to count my blessings.

I pledge my heart to greater loyalty - for friends and family I can rely on in good times and bad.

I pledge my hands to larger service and realize that through service, I improve myself as much as the cause I serve.

I pledge my health to better living because while I'm thankful for today, I also cannot wait for what tomorrow brings.

Each day, 4-H'ers unwittingly remind me I am fortunate to live in this time and place. Happy Thanksgiving.

Terri Kimble is the 4-H Program Specialist for Newton County 4-H. She can be reached at (770) 784-2010 or tkimble@uga.edu

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