“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

I know, I know.  After complaining at length about the overabundance of Wizard of Oz jokes that are forced upon me, (Bracing Up) there is a bit of irony in my choice of titles for this blog.  But darn it, it’s just too appropriate.

This looks nothing like Kansas.  Because it’s not.  It’s Arizona.  Phoenix, to be exact.  And this is where Danny and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving with our family.

Our oldest son moved with his wife and four children to Phoenix four years ago.  Our youngest son, his wife and two children will also be joining us from Rapid City, South Dakota.  I have been looking forward to this holiday for months.

You see, I don’t get to see my children and grandchildren very often.  At least, not nearly as often as I would like.  I last saw the Arizona crew in July, and the Rapid City crew in August.  At times I find myself envying those grandparents who live several blocks, or even several hours, from their grandchildren.  I envy the fact that they are able to attend every baseball game, every dance, every birthday party.

But when I start to feel that way, I can sense my mother wagging her finger at me from heaven, admonishing me by saying, “You know, it could be worse!”  And she is absolutely right.  Thanksgiving is a time for being grateful for one’s blessings, not lamenting what one doesn’t have.

So, here are just a few of the things I am especially grateful for this Thanksgiving:

I am grateful that our two sons have found careers that they love and are independent and confident enough to pursue them.

I am grateful that we have two daughters-in-law who accept us into their homes with open arms each and every time we visit.

I am grateful that we have six amazing, happy, healthy grandchildren who look forward to our time together as much as we do.

The fact is, the old adage “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” really does have some truth to it.  And although we may not have the opportunity to be present at each of our grandchildren’s activities, there is a downside to never having a reason to miss someone.

My arrivals are met by a screech of “Grammy!” with tiny arms thrown tightly around my waist, and when I leave, my own glistening eyes are mirrored in the glistening eyes of the tiny face that whispers, “I don’t want you to go.”

For those of you who have never experienced any of that, let me tell you, it’s pretty darn special.  And it is enough to sustain me through many a quiet day at the farm.

But this Thanksgiving Day will not be quiet.  It will be filled with the raucous laughter of adults, the glorious chaos of rambunctious children, …

…and one very, very grateful Grammy.

(I reflect on another Thanksgiving holiday with my family in the November chapter of Another Year on the Family Farm.)

Next Week:  Never Riding Alone

Everyone Needs a Mirror

“A sister is both your mirror – and your opposite.”  Elizabeth Fishel

I recently returned from my seventh annual “sister trip”.  I, my two sisters, and our three husbands spent almost a week in Michigan, a state to which we had never before traveled.  But the “where” is not as important as the “why”.  This annual traveling tradition began in 2013, shortly after we buried our last brother.  It became painfully obvious to us that life is short, and we wanted to make as many memories with each other as we could, while we could.

The quote by Elizabeth Fishel describes the three of us perfectly.  We are so very alike in so many ways, yet so very different in others.  That statement applies not only to our physical characteristics, but also to our personalities.  While physical characteristics are widely understood to be genetic in nature, there is ongoing debate as to how much of our personality is genetic, and how much is environmentally driven.

Regardless of cause, having both a mirror and an opposite can lead to some interesting personal revelations.  You know that one personality trait that drives you crazy?  The one you thought was totally opposite of your own?  Oops.  Turns out it was a reflection all along.

Physical similarities are much easier to analyze.  Over the years, I have been mistaken for each of my sisters at different times.  My favorite incident happened a number of years ago when my hair style happened to be very similar to that of my sister Joyce.  A woman came up to me while I was shopping, grabbed my arm, and said, “Hi! It’s so nice to see you again!”

I was fairly certain I had never seen this woman before in my life.

She continued chatting merrily for a minute or two, then asked, “How’s Stan?”  It was then that I knew.

I smiled and replied, “Just fine, last time I checked with my sister.”

The expression on her face began as confusion, slowly transformed to understanding, then was immediately followed by embarrassment.  I assured her that there was no need for embarrassment.  It happened all the time.

Yet, as much as we physically favor each other, the three of us, for whatever reason, tend to focus on our differences.

“I’m sure I have Grandpa’s eyes.”

“I think my facial structure is the most like Grammy’s.”

“You look the most like Joe.” (One of our brothers.)

“You remind me the most of Vernon.” (Another brother.)

And so it goes.

On our Sister Trip last year, after a lengthy, robust analysis of the origin of each of our physical characteristics – one by one – my sister Sherry’s husband, Olen, finally said with more than a little exasperation, “Who cares?  What does it matter who you each look like?”

The three of us immediately stopped talking and stared at him.  Did he just say, “What does it matter”?!  We each then gave him a “What planet are you from?!” look.

Oh, right.  Mars.

But the truth is, the physical characteristics really aren’t what matter.  Or at least they shouldn’t.  Do you want to know the one thing that does matter?

Animals and small children know what matters.  They know what’s important and what’s not.  Because they know that how a person treats those from whom they have nothing to gain is the truest test of character.

Animals and small children don’t care about the shape of your nose or the color of your eyes.  They also don’t care about what you do for a living or how much money you make.  Nor do they care about who you know or where you live.

What they absolutely do care about is how you make them feel when they are with you.  Are you kind?  Are you gentle?  And do you give them attention? 

Animals and small children are drawn to my sisters like bees to honey. 

And that’s really all I need to see in my mirror.

(My favorite “sister” story is “August – The Shopping Trip” in A Year on the Family Farm.)

Next week:  It’s not exactly Labrador