Why I give thanks: Thanksgiving, a time for sharing stories

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Deer hunting tales mixed with wood smoke and cooling pies at Grandma’s house

Dean Hess, Superintendent, Oconto Falls Public Schools

Dean Hess (NEW Media photo by Greg Mellis)

As the leaves turn crimson and begin to fall, we notice other signs of autumn — the geese flying south, sunsets coming earlier each day and the need to grab a jacket to ward off the bite of the early morning cold. As the days of fall grow fewer, our thoughts turn to the upcoming holiday season and our memories of Thanksgiving past.

For many, Thanksgiving brings the opportunity for quality time with family and friends. It also provides an opportunity for reflection on the many things that we are thankful for. Quite often, we are so wrapped up in the challenges that daily life brings that we tend to take for granted the gifts that have been bestowed upon us. The treasure of family and friendship.

As a boy, Thanksgiving was a magical time when the deer hunters all came together at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. It was a small home nestled in the woods of north central Wisconsin. We would take turns walking in small groups from the hunting shack to Grandma’s house as we had to eat in shifts.

I can still remember the smell of the smoke from the woodstove in the front room and the many pies that were cooling on the porch rail because there wasn’t enough counter space inside. We always knew to change out of our warm hunting clothes (long johns) as Grandma’s house would be 85 degrees or more from all the cooking and baking that had been happening since early that morning.

We would make a plate, and then see if we could find a place to sit in the front room with all the other cousins. We would watch the football game and during commercials would tell stories of the deer and other wildlife that we had seen that day. As young people, we don’t often recognize the magic of those moments when they are happening.

My parents are now the grandparents and soon-to-be great-grandparents. Thanksgiving now happens at their home. Our hunting party has dwindled from a crew of a dozen or more to just a few of us. My brother and I are the “old men” of the crew, and the activities around camp seem a bit tamer than I remember them as a boy.

We still go to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. The smell of fresh baked pies and the coming Thanksgiving meal greets us as we step through the door. Just as I remember, the food is always incredible and the old stories we share with the next generation spur awe and laughter. We still tell deer stories and make plans for the next day’s hunt, but the smell of wool coats drying and tobacco smoke is missing.

Family members of the greatest generation are alive in our hearts, and as we reflect, we are thankful for the wonderful memories that we have from time invested together. We are thankful for the fellowship that we shared when they were in the sunset of their lives and we were in the youth of ours.

As we prepare for this coming holiday season, I reflect and am forever thankful for family, friends and for our health that we often take for granted. I am thankful to live in a free democratic society where every day we exercise our right to choose. I am thankful for the veterans past and present who have served in order to uphold our way of life.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I encourage you to take time to reflect on what you are thankful for. To recognize the many gifts in your life. Then I encourage you to be that person who helps others to be thankful. Be helpful and kind with a friend or family member. Be giving of yourself in order to help someone in need. Experience the true meaning of the season.

To you, I wish a wonderful Thanksgiving and a moment to reflect and be thankful!

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It is so easy to overlook gratitude.

We are busy. We are distracted, overwhelmed, we have lives to lead, and what should be a routine — taking a moment to appreciate — is easily forgotten.

We set aside a day for thanksgiving, and although it is deeply rooted in our common historical tradition, it has come to mean so much more. We are grateful to our ancestors, and we are grateful to those whose lives have shaped ours, but Thanksgiving Day has become a day to reflect on many aspects of our lives.

In this special section, “Why I Give Thanks,” NEW Media asked nine individuals from the communities we serve to reflect on what makes them grateful. The responses are all uniquely personal, but throughout the essays are some common themes. Family, faith, community. We hear gratitude for the turkey dinner, but more to the point, gratitude toward the farmers who made the meal possible.

We hear not only gratitude for the opportunity to hunt, but gratitude for the fellowship, the stories, the family tales that hunting season represents.

We take a moment to be grateful for things, then look around and see that the things are surrounded by people we cherish, and we remember why taking that moment of appreciation is so important.

To the nine community members who shared their personal stories, thank you.

From everyone at NEW Media, a very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

— Carol Ryczek, NEW Media editor-in-chief

See all of the Why I Give Thanks contributions in the Nov. 21 Oconto County Times Herald.