November is the happiest month of them all
November is my favorite month. It's that simple.
I can trace my fondness for this month -- a time when I count my blessings for the freedoms that come with voting on Election Day, observing Veterans Day and gathering for a Thanksgiving feast -- to the year when I had just turned 3.
My first recollection of November is sitting in my grandparents' dining room in their farmhouse in Battle Ground, Indiana, at the "kids' table" on Thanksgiving Day with my cousins and the joy that followed a week later when my brother, Jim, was born on Nov. 30.
And ever since, my mother's side of the family, descendants of her parents, Gertrude and Paul Mitchell, has celebrated Thanksgiving together. First we met where my mother grew up with eight siblings on the farm. When we outgrew the dining room, we moved to the Retreat Center at the Battle of Tippecanoe Camp Ground. For more than 20 years, we've all headed to Ross Camp near Purdue.
My brother, Jim, lives near our folks in Muncie, Indiana. These days, as my folks, aunts and uncles age into their 80s and 90s -- four of my mother's siblings are no longer with us -- all of us cousins, our children and their children again wonder whether this time is the last time.
I'm grateful that Jim and my sister-in-law will drive our folks to Ross Camp. And that my brother, Jay, who now lives in Colorado, also will return with his family.
Going forward, our faithful tradition to share Thanksgiving Day is in question as the next generation tries to figure out how to help from long distances, taking on the responsibility of making arrangements that my Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Don generously have handled all these years.
Humor in 'Obits'
Who knows why, but unlike my 91-year-old father, I've never been attracted to the obituary pages. While I love listening to personal stories to write, my father especially enjoys reading about folks between birth and death.
Every morning when my dad opens his Muncie Star-Press to read the obituaries, he plays a game that he calls "Obits." He thinks he started playing when he was 72, about the time he knew he could "beat it." He says it's a way to keep his mind sharp.
My dad chuckles when he says my mother, age 87, doesn't find his enthusiasm to win so funny.
As he reads, he keeps track of the age of each of the deceased and compares each one to his age. When finished, he adds up the total ages and then divides by the number of obituaries featured. He considers himself a winner if he's older than the average.
I'm grateful he hasn't lost in years!
On Nov. 19, I appreciated a call from a friend who also reads obituaries. She called just in time to share news that Tom Bursh had died on Nov. 15 and his funeral began later that morning.
Back in 1993 when I worked in the PR department at Naper Settlement, Tom was leading the construction of the Pre-Emption House, a re-creation of a building that had stood where Sullivan's Steakhouse is now.
Tom would often stop by my office early in the morning when he checked the job. He'd share stories of his family, his service in the Navy, his 38-year career with Western Electric, as well as his rich life that included serving on the Naperville Unit District 203 school board and membership in the Rotary Club of Naperville.
In retirement, Tom was a selfless, thoughtful, soft-spoken volunteer with a knack of ending up in leadership.
As I sat with the folks assembled to celebrate Tom's life, his devoted outreach in this community was remembered by his wife, Ginny, family and friends. Listening to the eulogy, I began to think of all the people touched by Tom's energies during his 89 years and how many residents right here in Naperville likely never even knew all that he accomplished behind the scenes for all of us.
When the pastor asked for personal anecdotes, one of Tom's two sons remembered that whenever they'd ask their dad for help spelling a word, he'd say, "Look it up."
Our family always kept a large dictionary handy. "Look it up" was a commonly used phrase at our house, too.
While sitting there listening to all the testaments to Tom, an inspirational poem, "The Dash," by Linda Ellis came to mind. When I returned to this computer, I searched for it online. The poem is easy to find with strict instructions about its copyright. If you've yet to read "The Dash," look it up. You'll be thankful you did.
One more thing … This action-packed month of Thanksgiving wraps up with the Friends of Little Friends Parade of Lights beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30, a showcase of our sparkling community spirit that happens this year on the first day of Advent. You can bet I'll be thinking of my brother, Jim.