Happy Thanksgiving Mrs. Winter

By: Mary Forde

Growing up, my brother with disabilities was something like the character “Pig Pen” in Charlie Brown comics – there always seemed to be a whirlwind of chaos circling around him. He was a force and not always for good. Every day he would come home from school throw his stuff in the house and go down the block to Mrs. Winter’s house. Mrs. Winter was a lovely woman with three children who had a house that looked like Better Homes and Gardens. Everything was neat and in its place. Tim would go down to Mrs. Winter and she would give him milk and cookies (real cookies, like chocolate chip. My mother’s strategy was to buy cookies that no one liked or would eat so that when we whined there was nothing to eat, she would say, “There’s cookies” knowing full well that the one box sugar crisps was ten years old). After his snack, I think Tim just sat in front of the TV until dinner time when Mrs. Winter would call and in her calm and measured voice ask if someone could come down and get him and bring him home – somewhat reluctantly we did. Mrs. Winter was not a social worker, psychologist or nurse. She had a gift for creating a warm and nurturing place where a whirling dervish could find some quiet and his family could have some semblance of normalcy.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday and I think about what I am grateful for, I find myself thinking about Mrs. Winter. In all the years that Tim went down to her house every day after school, I don’t think we ever properly thanked her. Maybe because what she did just seemed so regular and routine. In all honesty, we really took her for granted, although I don’t think we could have survived without her. It has me thinking about the people in my life now that I probably should be rewarding and thanking profusely but who I fail to recognize because I take them for granted.

Since most of our Thanksgiving dinners will end up being quieter and smaller, it may be a good time to start a new tradition of identifying the ‘good deed doers’ in our lives (watch the Wizard of Oz after dinner and see what the Wizard gives the Tin Man) and how we can show them just how important they are. What are those little gifts of time and service that we receive from friends, neighbors, co-workers or others that make our lives just a little easier? Not the ‘running into burning buildings’ gestures but the neighbor who drops of an extra bagel on Saturday. The friend who always picks you first to be on her team. The brother who always lets you have the last chocolate chip cookie (yes, I still resent the sugar crisps). The second part of the discussion is how can each one of us become “good deed doers” in someone else’s life. Bring the newspaper from the driveway to the front door. Invite someone new to sit with you in the Student Center (hopefully soon). Bring an extra coffee back to the office.

Most of us have Thanksgiving traditions that come from long ago and nobody seems to have understanding of why they started or why we keep doing them. I don’t know who was the first person to put the canned jellied cranberry sauce on a glass dish and pretend that the indentations from the can are decorative but I believe we can give that one up. A new tradition can be to start your family’s League of Good Deed Doers – recognizing those who do good unto us and reaching out to do good unto others. Call them out by name and action saying, “I am really thankful for Jenny because she always ends her emails by saying something nice.” And “from now on, I am going to text Grandma a picture of me and my art projects every Saturday.” It can become a new Thanksgiving tradition and grow as our tables welcome back friends and families. We may not save the world but we can make small, important differences that just might save a family, just like Mrs. Winter.