Several years ago I realized that my lawn will never be used as a practice putting green, but instead will always be a haven for dogs and kids.
That doesn't mean it isn't mowed regularly, or that I don't rake the leaves in the fall. I do the required maintenance each year, and put down some lime and fertilizer from time to time as necessary.
I don't use herbicides or bug killers because I don't want poison seeping down into the ground water, or affecting living creatures above ground either. I also like the look of hundreds of dandelions each spring. My grandmother used to make dandelion wine and used the greens for salads, but I don't.
I just like to see all those yellow flowers spread out amongst the green grass, nearly as much as I like the daffodils that burst through the late snow each year to let me know that warmer weather is on the way.
Today, with a house full of family, many of whom are children, I am reminded that I will always occupy a place in society that never will be pristine or perfectly groomed. But my part of the world still has its purpose and fulfills certain missions, one of which was evident from the joyful way my grandchildren exited my daughter's car upon arrival yesterday.
I'm sure that part of their joy was happiness at being out of the car after navigating several hours of holiday traffic, but they also know that once here they can run and play with very few rules other than the usual - no sharp sticks, no hitting, play nice with each other and the dogs, etc.
If they get muddy, so they get muddy. We can always do another load of laundry. If they fall down, they'll pick themselves up and start over. Dogs will bark, children will yell and holler and the lawn will endure some more wear and tear.
The front and back lawns both have paths worn in them from the dogs doing their daily patrols, alerting me to other people, other dogs and other animals. If the not-so-gentle patter of little feet create another path or two, so what? In the spring I can always buy another bag of grass seed.
It is obvious that the grandkids are thankful for their freedoms this Thanksgiving Day, and I am thankful that I have a good family here, good family out in the wider world, and a home for them to return to on occasion.
There are four generations under this roof today, starting with my mother, then my wife and me, then my daughters, then the grandchildren.
The oldest and the youngest taking a break together.
But we are missing one part of the family, and while I would love it if he were here, there is a higher calling at work today.
My son Kevin, who lives in Florida and is a commercial airline pilot - or was until the industry tanked - has a different type of mission today. As I write this, he and his girlfriend are flying his four-seater Cherokee from Tampa Bay to Panama City, and then to Mobile, Alabama, to pick up a female German Shepherd named Gretta who is narrowly escaping euthanasia.
No one wanted Gretta, and she was due to be put down, but a rescue network that in this instance required the cooperation of nine different people matched up Gretta with a lady in the Tampa Bay area who had a place for her, but not the means to get her from Louisiana to Florida.
Enter PilotsNPaws www.PilotsNPaws.org and my son, who told me yesterday, "I can't go on that site too much because I'd be doing rescues every day."
Kevin and his girlfriend have been rescuing unwanted dogs for years now and he has flown German Shepherds to new homes in the past. They haven't done this on Thanksgiving though, but when I asked him about giving up his holiday his response was "I can't rescue them all but I can sure try." Then he added, "I can eat turkey tomorrow."
When he touches down in Mobile, he will meet a like-minded person who also is taking time this Thanksgiving Day to drive Gretta to the airport where she will board, get both back seats all to herself and begin the final leg of her journey home. I am immensely proud of his part in this endeavor.
It is a tradition on my part to take a moment on Thanksgiving Day and remember back to 1968 when I spent the day flying as a machine gunner with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161 HMM-161, delivering turkey dinners to Marine infantrymen along the DMZ in Vietnam, and others along the Laotian border.
I always drink a toast to those Marines I flew with, the grunts on the ground who benefited from our efforts, and those of my friends who did not make it home. I also take a moment to thank all who are serving our country, and who have served, at home and abroad, making sure that the freedoms that far too many Americans take for granted are kept intact.
Those traditions will continue today, and every Thanksgiving Day as long as I am able. But today I also am thankful for other traditions enjoyed by my family, and while some are welcome for their familiarity others are equally welcome for their originality.
Next spring I will reseed parts of my lawn and remember that dogs and kids had a great time wearing out the grass. Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay a lady who needed a dog, and a dog who needed a lady will be enjoying their time together because for all that is wrong with this world, there also are many people like my son who put things into proper perspective, and share a portion of their lives so future Thanksgivings will have special meaning for others.
UPDATE: As of Sunday evening, November 29,2009, my son informed me that he had taken part in a weekend of rescues that resulted in saving 7 adult dogs and 11 puppies from euthanasia. He flew all over Florida, put in eight-hour flight days on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, met several other pilots and lots of rescue volunteers who were also part of the effort. They did well and I am proud of them all.
Thursday, November 26, 2009