The week before Thanksgiving when I was in the fourth grade, together my dad and mom announced to us four kids that come January, Dad was being transferred to a new town. Mom was three weeks away from giving birth to baby No. 5.
Having lived all 10 years in the same northwestern Kansas rural community of Hoxie, that Thanksgiving announcement came as a big surprise, making me angry, scared and worried.
I told my dad that making us move right after Christmas was stupid and unfair. I didn’t want to leave both sets of grandparents and my fourth-grade friends, especially Kim and Debbie.
Today, I can look back over the decades with a heart of thanksgiving for the hundreds of friends who have crossed my path. But that November back in the day, I was ungrateful.
Dad and Mom always had taught us kids to be grateful, and thankfully, over the next eight weeks, gratitude grew in my 10-year-old heart. Gratitude grew right up until the last Friday when I was a student in that second-floor fourth-grade classroom. Even in my final minutes in that classroom, I tried to show gratitude, even though I was nervous, and it didn’t go very well.
The final day in that school for me, my teacher, Miss Karnes, had a going-away party for me at the end of the school day. After my classmates all left, I stayed afterward to clean out my desk. Lifting up the top of my desk, I stuffed a mishmash of big chief tablet sheets inside a brown paper bag Miss Karnes had given me. Kim, my longtime, faithful friend, stood beside me, not saying a word.
Suddenly, I turned to Kim and told him to go get Debbie, a girl in my class I liked. Her dad was the city attorney. Debbie was smart and funny and pretty and poised. I told Kim that I want to kiss her.
“Please go ask Debbie to come back to the room.”
Without saying a word, Kim bolted out of that fourth-grade classroom and ran down the hallway looking for Debbie. When I looked up, Debbie stood in the classroom doorway in her red coat and red hat.
“Oh, I didn’t mean it,” I said. Repeating myself, I said it more firmly, “I didn’t mean it.”
Debbie looked puzzled and turned and left as quickly as she had appeared. Kim walked back to me without saying a word.
Did I really want to kiss Debbie? Of course not. I never had kissed a girl in my life. Sure, those were the words that came from the lips of a skinny 10-year-old boy with red hair and freckles, and on that particular day, lots of emotions.
Now here is what I wish I could have said. “Debbie, I called you back here because I wanted to say a special thank you for being my friend. You are smart and nice and full of self-assurance. Thank you so much for being such a good influence on me. It means a lot to me. Goodbye, Debbie. I am so thankful for you, and I wish you all the best.”
But what 10-year-old boy has that kind of presence, or those kind of words? As I said goodbye to Debbie, what I really wanted was the chance to express my gratitude, which, on that day, was all jumbled with painful emotions of grief and sorrow, emotions I had rarely, if ever, felt.
I did indeed tell Kim that I wanted to kiss Debbie. When
it nearly came to pass, though, the only words I could muster were these feeble four: “I didn’t mean it.”
No, Debbie did not get to hear my heartfelt thankfulness for her friendship that afternoon. Deep down, though, I like to think that somehow she still knew.
I bet there are people in your life this Thanksgiving that would love to hear from you how much they are loved and appreciated. Well, what’s stopping you? Do it face to face, if you can. If not, write a handwritten note. Not a text or email. A handwritten note.
I’ll even prime the pump and give you your opening line: “I’ve been wanting to tell you from the bottom of my heart how deeply thankful I am for you.”
Say it just like that. Then just step back, smile from ear to ear and say the four words that eluded me so long ago: “I really mean it.”