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posted: 11/25/2013 11:11 AM

Plenty to give thanks for this year and always

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When Mitch Albom appeared recently at North Central College's Meiley-Swallow Hall for a book signing event arranged by Anderson's Bookshop, I sat in the balcony of the thrust theater where I've watched many memorable presentations in recent years.

I enjoyed a great view of the audience's reactions to the best-selling writer of "Tuesdays with Morrie" as he provided a glimpse of his new book, "The First Phone Call from Heaven," as well as his career as a sports columnist in his adopted hometown of Detroit.

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Personally, I could relate to his passions for communications, replete with strong messages regarding the importance for life to be filled with experiences, familiar voices, faith, hope and charity. Of course, Albom chose different words to express his convictions, including his desire to explore the afterlife.

During the Q&A, I observed a teacher who praised Albom and his writing for helping her students connect positively to our world.

I later read his book, and I got to thinking.

As we enter this wondrous season when gratitude and giving take center stage, I'm mindful of many teachers who influenced me, even when my opinions were not appreciated. Let me count the times I've been tested to learn from my mistakes, growing stronger in the world I live.

More than once in this space, I've credited my parents as my first and best teachers. I strive to be more like them, mainly because even when facing challenges, they assured my two younger brothers and me that we were safe and secure.

Always prepared, my folks didn't appear to fret much about what may happen that's out of their control -- tornadoes, wars, poverty, heart attacks, old age, death and countless other fears.

As a role model, my dad's been an innovative and self-reliant independent business owner. He was hard on himself, sometimes displaying a hot temper; yet, he inspired us with his generous heart.

He never expected anything from anyone else that he didn't demand of himself. He's often expressed the satisfaction of owning his construction business -- taking pride in his success while doing all the dirty jobs he couldn't ask or even pay someone else to do.

As a fellow night owl, I continue to cherish memories of my teen years when my dad always waited up for my return by the 11 p.m. curfew. We'd stay up past midnight discussing current events or his most recent read by F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman or some philosopher.

I also vividly remember in 10th grade when my social studies teacher didn't appreciate my independent thoughts on economics, self-reliance or the Cold War that came from our family's spirited dinner conversations focused on individual freedom.

That year, less-than-average grades in social studies began to shatter my confidence in writing and faith in the First Amendment.

Fortunately, the following year, Miss Ryan appreciated my creative writing and poetry that had been my passion since Mrs. Heichelbach's fourth grade.

Miss Ryan, a diminutive, silver-haired woman with a gentle manner, had the big task of teaching us how to research term papers.

She gave the entire class the same assignment that required visiting the public library. I still can hear my classmates several days later whining because they had opened reference books only to discover the pages they needed had been torn out.

Without skipping a beat, Miss Ryan said, "If you ever see anybody defacing a book, you tell them to 'cut it out.'" Lesson learned.

Taken out of context, I'll use a line in Albom's latest book, "Only hurts if I think," to accentuate these technological times of occasional disconnect when we're all bombarded with constant messages. I'll also use it to count my blessings.

About 30 years, my mother's family has gathered at Ross Camp, a 4-H camp near Purdue, for their Thanksgiving reunion -- ever since the Gertrude and Paul Mitchell clan outgrew the retreat center at the Tippecanoe Battlefield after the large dining room in their farmhouse in Battle Ground, Ind., became too small.

My Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Don, both 90, live closest. They again booked reservations. Illness this past year among several of my mother's four siblings (originally there were nine children) suggest this year could be our family's last Thanksgiving gathering at Ross Camp.

Of course, we say that every year.

No doubt, emotions will run high when Uncle Phil, my mother's youngest brother, says grace with loving reflections of family, past and present.

More than usual, I'm grateful for our long-standing family tradition, chock full of teaching moments and indelible memories.

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