Spending Thanksgiving with my family was always special, since that was not something I could do as a child growing up. When I was with the Russells for any holiday or for the summer, it was a treat. The Thanksgiving of 2003 was even more special. My father requested that all seven of his children meet at a halfway point between my home in Alabama and his home in Washington D.C. Out of seven siblings, three of them lived in this midway point – Charleston, South Carolina.
It was the day before Thanksgiving that my three sons and I drove to Charleston. As we made the eight hour journey northeast, the traffic on I-20 was bumper to bumper in spots. It seems that all of us travelers had the same thing in mind that Thanksgiving – to get home to family.
I so looked forward to seeing the Russells on Thanksgiving again. It had been five years since I’d been home. My father wanted us all to get together, maybe for the last time. He was in the last stages of cancer. He knew that soon, he wouldn’t be able to travel.
When we first arrived at the oldest sister’s home, we all greeted each other like we hadn’t seen each other in 10 years. The whole neighborhood could hear us. I spent time with each of my brothers and sisters one on one that Thanksgiving weekend, finding out what was going on in their lives, catching them up with mine. I remember spending time with special nieces and nephews and even sharing in some of the challenges they were facing.
I’d always liked being with my mother. She was a fun person who always lavished her children and grandchildren with love and gifts. I liked being with daddy, too. He was fun to be with in a different way. Daddy usually saw our time together as an opportunity to pass on bits of wisdom. There was no doubt that he loved his wife and children and grandchildren. This Thanksgiving was perhaps his last opportunity to have us all together to show us and tell us.
I remember the two of us – Daddy and me – sitting in front of Patrice’s house in his car that Thanksgiving morning. I told him about the family research I had done. I had found his father’s family. Earlier that year, I had traveled and spent time with them. I even had photos to show him. He shared with me his parent’s secrets. There was more to the story of how and why his mother and father divorced when he was only six-years-old. My father never had contact with his father again until he was living in D.C. Even when they arranged to meet, they were never able to make contact. I begged my father to come to Alabama to meet his father’s family. It was hard for me to imagine or accept at the time that Daddy’s traveling days were just about over.
The highlight of the event was Thanksgiving Day when all of us gathered in my sister’s living room and held hands. My father started by telling us how much we meant to him. He left with each of us bits of wisdom that should live with us long after he was gone. He wanted us to love one another and take care of one another. He vowed that our mother would always have everything she needed. That’s the kind of man he was, all his life. Each one of us siblings took turns speaking from our hearts.Then we bowed our heads and prayed before eating together.
By the next Thanksgiving, Daddy was bedridden. He didn’t live to see Thanksgiving 2005.
I am forever thankful for that trip to Charleston, South Carolina in 2003. There hasn’t been a Thanksgiving before or since that has meant as much to me. That was when our whole family were together one last time before the patriarch was taken from us. For that reason, I am so glad that I was there.