by Tim Deary ’05 (faculty) –
Over Family Weekend, while we were all taking advantage of a much-needed break from the bustle of the Pomfret routine, I was celebrating my favorite holiday of the year: The Deary Thanksgiving. I tend to gush when it comes to my family, so many of you are already familiar with this annual event. But it must be said that it is no small feat, fitting all the Dearys in one place. A friend of mine once referred to the Deary family as the Kennedys of the Quiet Corner. My father is one of thirteen children, and Colby Breault and I are among some sixty Deary cousins. This year, my aunt Patty had tables set for eighty-eight people, with six extra seats for any unannounced guests. And that may be my favorite part. Every year I know I will see aunts, uncles, and cousins, but I can also count on meeting new boyfriends, girlfriends, step-cousins, and even some pets. I find it wonderfully encouraging to know that whomever I choose to bring into the fold, he or she will be welcomed into the family with open arms. There is always room for more at the Deary table.
When my father and his siblings were growing up, they ate Sunday dinner every week at noon sharp. They would take their place around the dining room table, (two picnic tables that were installed in their dining room to accommodate everyone), and it was not uncommon to have a few St. Onges, Tetreaults, Roveros, or Bates mixed in among the Dearys. My grandfather would famously scan the faces of the people seated at his table, and he would point to one kid or another and ask, “Do you belong to me?” This was a particularly difficult task on Thanksgiving morning. On any given year, there were one or two Dearys who played on the Putnam High School football team, so my grandmother began a tradition of inviting the entire team to her house on Thanksgiving morning for breakfast before the big game against Killingly. She had to feed fifteen anyway, so what’s thirty more? The boys would play their game, and by the time they returned the turkeys (plural) would be on the table. It sounds folkloric, but that’s what made my grandmother so magical. Her generosity and her gratitude were unmatched, and I catch a glimpse of it every year when three generations of her progeny get together in late October to play football, sing songs, tell stories, and eat Grammy’s famous stuffing.
It may not happen on the fourth Thursday of November, but that does not mean I am any less thankful for the amazing group of people I am fortunate enough to call my family. And that’s really what it’s all about. If we strip away the turkey, the pumpkin pie, and the football, what remains are the notions that were central to my grandmother’s being. Added to her generosity and gratitude were also giving—and giving thanks. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln made a lovely gesture by proclaiming Thanksgiving an annual tradition in the United States, but why stop there? My family happens to celebrate Thanksgiving twice a year, but is it really enough? Must we wait for a formal decree or a federal holiday to display our appreciation? Grammy Teddy didn’t seem to think so.
As we are all well aware, just this past week we were hit with one of the most devastating storms this region has ever seen. More than eighty people lost their lives, thousands more lost their homes. Those of us in the Pomfret community should count ourselves incredibly lucky to have emerged relatively unscathed. It is now the task of many to assess the casualties, taking inventory of all that was lost or ruined. This is no enviable position. Loss, particularly unexpected loss, can be overwhelming for the very reason that we rarely consider, let alone anticipate: losing the people and things we need and love.
But the crippling feeling we experience in loss can be mitigated by cultivating an ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE! Take a moment now to visualize not having what you have. Close your eyes if you feel so moved, but really picture what that would look like. Take a mental tour of your home, (you can start in the kitchen) and remove your modern appliances. Remove family photos, trophies, souvenirs from trips abroad. What does your home look like now? More importantly, how do you feel? Let’s pursue this further and consider your own person. Imagine losing an entire limb. How would that affect your day-to-day life? Admittedly, some of these scenarios are far-fetched, but they should encourage you to re-examine all that you do have, hopefully with renewed appreciation.
I mentioned that my father is one of thirteen children. Today he is one of eleven. In June of 1990, my aunt Cathy, the youngest of the thirteen, succumbed to cancer. She was only twenty-three. Her battle was a short one, as the original prognosis was terminal. Loss was imminent, but no time was wasted. Cathy’s last months were spent wrapped in love. Her brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews had a short window to show their appreciation for Cathy’s life and love, and she spent her time returning the favor. Her last days were spent in the hospital surrounded by family, with the exception of my uncle Gene Michael. On his way from Providence to the hospital in Hartford, Gene was in a car accident and was hospitalized overnight. The following afternoon, he made it to Cathy’s bedside. She had been drifiting in and out of consciousness all night, but woke up when Gene arrived. She asked him if he was okay, and he replied that he was fine. She asked again, and he again reassured her that he was all right. Grateful and relieved that her brother was safe, Cathy passed away some seconds later.
This coming August will mark the 23rd annual Deary Memorial Road Race. Originally organized by my father and his siblings to honor my Aunt Cathy, the race now also bears the name of my uncle Tommy and my two grandparents. It has also raised more than a million dollars for Day Kimball Hospital’s Cancer Center. Grammy Teddy lost her own battle with lung cancer in June of 1999. But in a moving tribute to my grandmother and the life that she led, nearly 150 family members gathered at my Aunt Robin’s house that year after the race. Every relative had written a personal note to Grammy. We wrote messages of love, sentiments of grief, but mostly we wrote words of thanks. Thanks for her example. Thanks for her courage. Thanks for her American Chop Suey. And thanks for her love. Each note was rolled up and placed in a balloon. One by one we filled our balloons with helium. We formed a circle around my aunt’s pool and after a song and a prayer, we sent our messages up to Grammy Teddy.
It was a truly special gesture, but even then I recognized that we had it backwards. We felt my grandmother’s impact more acutely in her absence, and we filled the void with our love and appreciation. Did we really not recognize how important she was to us while she was alive? I doubt this is true, but I am certain we didn’t tell her nearly enough. We rarely do. We wait for federal holidays or we are forced into recognition when it’s too late.
I would like to offer you another opportunity to cultivate your attitude of gratitude. I am encouraging each of you to write a thank-you note. Not an e-mail, not a text, a note. Hand-written. And if you can, send it the old-fashioned way. Lick the stamp and everything. Great is the joy in receiving a personally addressed letter in the mail, and greater still is the warmth in reading a message of sincere thanks. We have too much to be thankful for to wait around until the fourth Thursday in November. Make Thanksgiving everyday.
Thank you, and I mean it.