ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

BASKETBALL AND CANDIED YAMS

There will be a couple of new faces around the dinner table this Thanksgiving.

One will belong to Julieanne, our new granddaughter. Of course, she won't actually be sitting with us at the table. She'll mostly be napping while being passed from Mommy to aunt to cousin to Grammy. But she'll be there when we gather, and occasionally her cute little cry will remind us how thankful we are for her safe arrival in a world that has seen far too much of unsafe arrivals lately.

The other new face will belong to Nate, our future son-in-law. We're still in the get-acquainted phase of our relationship with Andrea's fiancé, and so far, we are all getting along famously. But he hasn't yet experienced one of our family's traditional pre-Thanksgiving dinner basketball games, where the phrase "no compound fracture, no foul" originated and where Cousin Mike never met a twisting, turning, fade-away three-pointer he didn't take. We'll see how Nate handles the jungle of our gym - and we'll be thankful if he decides to marry Andrea anyway.

There will also be a few familiar faces that won't be seen around the table this year. Cousin Mike (no, not that Cousin Mike - the other one; well, OK - one of FIVE Cousin Mikes) is in law enforcement and has to work that day. Uncle Ron and Aunt Wanda will be heaven-knows-where, doing missionary work for their church. And then there are those - I won't name names, but you know who you are - who actually think it is important to occasionally spend Thanksgiving with non-Walker families and friends. Can you imagine such a thing? Neither can I - at least, not until next Thanksgiving, when we'll be feasting with Anita's family.

And then there are those who will be with us for Thanksgiving even though we won't be able to see their faces. Mom will be there in every recipe - especially Aunt Kathy's candied yams (which, out of respect to Mom, I won't eat - I figure if Mom couldn't live to see me eat yams, Kathy isn't going to, either). Dad will be by my side, instructing me once again on the finer points of turkey-carving (I forget, Dad - am I supposed to cut WITH the grain or AGAINST the grain?).

Uncle Bud will be there, sampling everything before it makes its way to the table. Nobody loved Thanksgiving more than Bud, because it brings together his two favorite things in all the world - family and food. If you could throw a little horseback riding into the mix, Bud would be in heaven.

Which, come to think of it, he is.

I will see Cousin Laura in the smile of every teenage girl cousin - especially her niece, Brianne, who strongly resembles Laura in both looks and sweetness. And I will see Cousin Sarah in every little cousin, romping and playing with holiday glee.

They will all be there - whether or not we can see them. That's the way it is with family and tradition. It isn't just about turkey and dressing, candied yams and mashed potatoes. Nor is it as simple as blood, sweat and tears on a basketball court. It is the mingling of new faces and old, the seen and the unseen, bound by love, respect and heritage.

A heritage that now includes Julianne and Nate.

Thankfully.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.