Finding Reasons to Be Grateful
They say distance is good for perspective. It’s certainly good for what ails me.
As you read this, my bride and I are somewhere on a frosty hillside in Ashe County hunting for the perfect Christmas tree at a place where my dad and I used to cut trees when I was a kid, taking nips of a fine old port. Anything more fun than this could possibly be labeled illegal.
Before dawn yesterday, following too much turkey and football and a day of cleaning the garage, we slipped away and spent a lovely morning knocking around Asheville before ambling up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a night at a fine old inn in Blowing Rock.
We needed this, let me tell you. For the second year in a row, for reasons mostly beyond our control, our planned summer beach vacation failed to materialize.
When it emerged that our horde of college-aged children would be with the other halves of our extended families for Thanksgiving, I suggested that we sneak away to Okracoke for a weekend with good wine and no adult supervision.
Personally, I’m a mountain man, possibly because I grew up camping and fishing in the Blue Ridge. Something about these ancient hills and twisting roads nourishes the frayed edges of my soul like nothing else I can think of except my long-lost garden in Maine.
So imagine my surprise and delight when my thoughtful wife informed me she’d found us a reservation at a famous little inn in Blowing Rock, perhaps sensing I needed my hills a wee bit more than she needed her dunes.
Anyway, such a getaway may be the ideal — if only temporary — cure for the post-recessionary blues that seems to stubbornly have America in its grip at the moment — too much work and not enough play, the usual worries about money and children and ailing parents and friends, a Congress that makes a body yearn for term limits, a super committee that is anything but, presidential candidates that seem less qualified than the seven dwarfs, an economy that could go either way, a college football culture rife with greed and scandal, not to mention Kim Kardashian’s ongoing emotional trials.
All of which sometimes obscures the point of Thanksgiving — which is, I fancy, even if you’re an anorexic atheist vegan who hates the holidays, is the importance of stating your gratitude to something higher than your own sandbox play group.
Some years ago, I was invited to participate in a nationwide poll of business and community leaders from a spectrum of professions, a survey meant to determine the singular qualities that may or may not help a young person find success down the road. Each participant was asked to name one virtue that has defined and shaped success in their chosen professional lives.
My first response was to ask the pollster who phoned me if she had the right person. After all, I occasionally receive inquiries meant for James Dobson, the conservative Christian broadcaster. My hope is that brother Dobson occasionally fields a swell invitation to speak at a fine season-ending men’s golf club banquet or at least play in a lively Scotch four-ball from time to time, not to be confused with a Scotch highball. Mr. Dobson’s handicap, if he has one, is having a surname dangerously close to mine.
“You’re the writer, right?
“Yes ma’am,” I confirmed. “Well, I’m a writer.” I explained that I fondly thought of either James Salter or perhaps the late John Mortimer as the writer. Charles Frazer, John Irving, Graham Greene, Irwin Shaw, E.B White, Ernest Hemingway, Janet Flanner, M.F.K Fisher, A.A. Milne and Dr. Seuss have also held the distinction of being the writer at various stages of my checkered development as a writer.
I told her I was prone to make lists of things I loved, including favorite writers, movies, poems, soundtracks, garden plants, golf courses, church hymns, potential grandchildren names, favorite useless quotes, peculiar English village and street names (Mad Woman Lane and Sodding End come to mind) and things I’ve promised to do but haven’t, like my annual pledge to clean out the garage before Thanksgiving. The lists, I added, are constantly revised and subject to change without notice owing to the subject’s day, mood, state of finances, phase of the moon and so forth. It seemed to be more information than the poor woman needed or wanted.
“What I mean is, you’re the one that writes those funny books about family and golf and such?”
I confirmed this was true and said thanks, which suddenly reminded me of the simple virtue I should choose.
“The French have a saying,” I explained. “Gratitude is the heart’s memory. Cicero also said gratitude is the parent of all virtues because it keeps us humble and ever working to improve. I’m very grateful to be a writer. So I’d say gratitude.”
“Very good,” she said, sounding grateful. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Dobson.”
Imagine my surprise when the poll appeared months later and ‘gratitude’ was listed among the top three virtues
Angels Watch Over
As we tramp through the hoarfrost here in the Carolina high country this Sunday morning, the heart’s memory will undoubtedly be working overtime, the gratitude list flowing.
At a time of life when it’s easy to work oneself to a grumpy lump, I’m grateful for a wife who knows when its time to pry my shoulder from the wheel and cart me off to the country for a little rest and mountain romance. The day this amazing woman walked into my life, every day became Thanksgiving.
At a moment when our fragile national economy continues to leave millions of Americans out of work and waiting anxiously on the sidelines, I’m grateful — and even confident — that we the people will eventually get fed up with self-enriching politicians and corporate bandits and take control of our country again.
As a father who has two newly minted college kids entering the most unpromising work force in many generations, I’m deeply grateful that I have two plucky, resourceful and highly independent children who can walk with kings but will never lose their common Yankee touch. If the old New England chestnut is true — hard weather makes good timber — they’ll be just fine.
I’m grateful for friends who come to supper and colleagues who make the magazines I get to edit far more fun than work. Ditto neighbors I never get to see as much as I’d like to, and the church pews I infrequently inhabit.
Maybe most of all, on that score, I’m grateful to a God I find wonderfully mysterious but increasingly feel and see in the world’s daily tread around me, in the faces of friends and strangers at moments of joy and need; in the uncomplicated pleasure of my dogs on a walk, and the quiet but productive hours before dawn when “we” typically talk and I sometimes think I sound like such a whiney twerp when asking for patience and wisdom and a few good angels to watch over those I love.
Holly and Ivy
Speaking of angels, here’s a chance for you to be one — and make me even more grateful this holiday season.
As Thanksgiving does a fast fade into Christmas, our annual PineStraw Holly and Ivy Dinner at the Pinehurst Resort is fast approaching on Dec. 6. Last year, we and the Pinehurst Resort recreated a unique eight-course Christmas dinner from 1910 with all the Gilded Age trimmings, a stringed orchestra and libations of the era. By all accounts, the sellout evening was a smashing success.
This year we’re planning an even more ambitious Holly and Ivy Dinner at the Carolina Hotel by recreating a speak easy night club straight from an alley in the Roaring ’20s — complete with complete with flappers and bootleggers, G-men and gangsters, a great jazz orchestra and even a Charleston dance competition. Of course, there will be another extraordinary feast at the heart of the evening, and this year, guest dancing to boot. We expect it to be another sellout and hope guests will indulge their inner Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, dressing the part for a night of illicit fun.
Last year, we had special “ghosts of Christmas Past” who visited the party — Donald Ross, Glenna Vare, John Phillip Sousa and Amelia Earhart.
This year, we have a celebrity list that includes some of the most notable characters of the 1920s. Here’s the fun part for you, dear reader. In the event you might have been one of these folks in another life, or simply feel an irresistible desire to get in touch with your inner Bobby Jones, you can join our roving cast (which gets in free and has a great green room party of its own). Here are the roles still unclaimed:
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
Fortunately, I get to play your gracious host with the snub-nose .38, big Al Capone. Talk about one grateful Mr. “Dobson.”
Holly and Ivy reservations can be made online at www.shoppinehurst.com. For information on joining the cast, contact PineStraw magazine at (910) 693-2467.
More like this story