I get up in the middle of the night to thank you;
your decisions are so right, so true—I can’t wait till morning!
- Psalm 119:62, The Message
I'm very thankful for the opportunities God has given me to show his love through Habitat for Humanity Fresno County's ministry. Want to know why? Well, since you asked...
I was born in Kansas City, MO, around 100 miles from my grandmother’s house. My father was a pastor, and we always had a service with a potluck on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving. After we got everything from the dinner cleaned up, we would all pile in the car with a couple of suitcases and some covered dishes from my mom’s kitchen and drive to grandma’s house.
One year it snowed during our Thanksgiving service. This was a storm that came straight south from Canada, and I think it brought most of the polar ice cap with it. When we went outside, about four inches of fresh, wet, heavy snow had fallen in the 90 minutes we had been inside, and the blizzard showed no sign of stopping any time soon.
But did dad cancel our trip? No he did not. Until he turned 60, my father had never seen weather conditions that kept him from driving, and that night was no exception. As a matter of fact, I think he kind of smiled and licked his lips. So we piled in the car like we always did- Mom and Dad in front and my three sisters and I in the back. My middle sister Jennie slept on a couple of pillows in the floorboard of the Plymouth Valiant. My oldest sister Tammy slept in the back window. (The only reason I wasn’t up there was that I had gone through a growth spurt and wouldn’t fit anymore.) That left for the back seat to keep my toddler sister (Stacia) under the covers (she was one of those who kick all the covers off).
Usually, I slept. But I was eleven, and I thought sleeping on trips was for babies, so I stayed awake for the trip. When Mom heard that, she told me to get in front and she stayed in the back with Stacia. I was pretty excited by that. I jumped into the front seat with my dad- the first time I had ever ridden there with Mom in the car. That trip is one of my favorite childhood memories.
Travelling at 25 MPH through the blizzard, the trip took four hours. I-70 wasn’t completed then, so we spent quite a bit of travel time on two-lane highways, driving through small towns. Most of them already had Christmas lights strung on their Main street- which was usually the highway. The colored lights shone through the falling snow, and the atmosphere was heavy with their aura. It had a magical appearance, like Santa’s Village in one of my Golden Books. The houses along the highway inside the city limits could be small or large and stately. I always think about them whenever I see one of Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas paintings. We were often the only car on the streets, plowing the first treads in the snow. Our snow chains made a muffled chink, chink, chink sound that I still remember vividly. Other than that, our world was silent.
Radio was AM only, and with the snow, it was nothing but static. Dad was in a talkative mood. He told me stories about going to his grandfather’s farm for holidays, and I told him all about the things my school friends told me about their holidays (our part of Kansas City had a large Jewish population, so I learned all about Hanukkah- which he found very interesting).
That was the first real conversation I remember having with my father.
Since the girls were all asleep, when he stopped to buy gas at service station he knew of, he had me help him put gas in the car and clean the snow off the windshield. When we went in to pay for the gas, he bought us cups of hot chocolate. When we got back in the car, Dad winked at me, put his finger in front of his lips, said “Shh” and nodded back towards the womenfolk. We were guys, and we got to have a secret. We were awake, doing the driving, so we got to have a treat.
We drove at our 25 MPH pace, sipping our cocoa and watching our wiper blades bat the snow away. Two hours later, we arrived in Slater, MO, another small town with colored lights coloring the snowfall. When we pulled into the driveway, Mom told me not to tell my sisters I had had hot chocolate. Nothing got past her. Grandma had food out on the table for us and the house was warm. My sisters didn’t want to eat, so we put them to bed.
Grandma was up waiting on us, and she was also working on the next day’s meal. She did something she’d never done before: she sent me down into the root cellar to get jars of green beans, a sack of potatoes, and jars of peaches and apples for her cobblers and pies. I guess I had grown quite a bit, if she trusted me to go down those icy steps by myself and come back up with arms full of glass jars.
That’s the Thanksgiving I remember best. We went from our home to God’s house, and from there through little towns full of homes, until we finally arrived at my Mom’s childhood home, where I spent so many summer days climbing her trees and drinking Kool-Aid on her steps and playing board games with my sisters and cousins around her dining room table.
There is nothing like a home. Having a home to go to. Having a “home base” to travel from. Having a grandparent’s home to travel to. Having a home builds memories of the past to sustain us when our present doesn’t quite do the job we need done.
Remember that. A home isn’t just a home. It is a treasure that children cherish all their lives. That’s what we do here at Habitat.
How could we not be thankful for a chance to give that to someone? I invite you to be a part of making this dream a reality for others.