By Martha Rasche
I think it’s time to make Thanksgiving my favorite day of the year again.
I am the sixth of nine children. When I was eight years old, all of my four older sisters went away to school; three were in college, and one was a freshman at a boarding high school. What I remember most about that time is how I felt when one or more of them would come home for a weekend.
Rose, attending Marian Heights Academy in Ferdinand, came home most often. As soon as she’d walk in the door on Friday evening, still in her school uniform – a navy skirt, a short-sleeve white cotton blouse, knee socks and sensible shoes – the air changed. She talked about the Benedictine sisters who taught her and her classmates, who hailed from other states and foreign countries. Even their names sounded exotic: Nanette. Martica. Darunee. Of the new activities that now filled her days, I always thought “glee club” sounded so much fun. (I didn’t know it was the same as choir!) Additionally, for the weekend, at least, I would get help with some of my everyday chores and with looking after my younger siblings.
Three months into the school year, Thanksgiving was the first weekend all four of my older sisters would return to the farm at the same time. The beginning of that week already seemed like a holiday, with all the anticipation of the family being reunited and whole again. Mom’s cleaning and baking never ended, and when my sisters finally arrived, one by one, their chatter and laughter took over the house.
Even at eight, I knew what “thanksgiving” meant.
For many years thereafter, Thanksgiving continued as my favorite day of the year. I always looked forward to my sisters’ homecomings, and soon enough, it was I who was coming home from the academy and then college. Thanksgiving remained a day of anticipation and, at day’s end, a quiet time of contented reflection.
The day’s significance started to change when, in my early 20s, I spent two years in the U.S. Peace Corps in Paraguay. A few years later, I worked in South Bend and having to show up at the newspaper office the morning after Thanksgiving kept me from spending the holiday on the farm with family. My favorite day of the year was losing its shine.
Fast forward to 2022. My “attitude of gratitude” is in need of polishing. I have been writing regularly about mental health issues for nine years now, and reading about the topic for much longer. So I know there is a correlation between gratitude and happiness. And both gratitude and happiness have positive effects on both mental and physical health.
Gratitude puts the focus on what one has instead of what one lacks. As World War II veteran and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”
Next year I will turn 60, and I am determined not to ride the bitter bus into old age. To help in my efforts to see fewer rain clouds and more silver linings, I turned to three of the most positive-minded older women I know. I found that what they have in common is an awareness of their blessings, large and small, every day.
When I called Kathy “Luckie” Hopf at her Dubois-area home and asked her what she was grateful for, she immediately mentioned the beautiful sunshine, the water in her outside fountain bubbling, horses in the field across the way and music on the radio.
“And a friend on the phone,” she added without missing a beat.
“Even when I’m watching the news on TV and hear about bombings and shooting,” the 78-year-old said, “I’m thinking, ‘I’m so blessed to live where I live.’”
Next, I asked Lucille Blume how she keeps her positive attitude.
“I have nothing to complain about,” the Jasper resident said. “If I can put one foot in front of the other and open my refrigerator door, I’m okay. God is good.”
Lucille, who turns 98 this month, is even able to see an upside to a health problem she had at the beginning of the year that put her in a nursing home for about eight weeks. “To me, it was a blessing that I had a stroke. I got an extra sacrament!” she said, referring to the Catholic ritual of Anointing of the Sick.
She said visits and phone calls from family members and friends help her to maintain positivity.
“It keeps me going. When I hear that doorbell ring, I think, ‘Oh, goody, somebody’s coming!’”
“I don’t get depressed. I really don’t,” she said. “I’ve got too much to be thankful for.”
And then I called Bernice Knies. She has been undergoing cancer treatments since the spring and recently suspended them because tests showed they weren’t helping. She and her oncologist agreed that at her age, 86, she should “just go and enjoy life.”
“I have very much to be thankful for,” Bernice said, including that several of her children are retired and able to be at her side when she needs them. “So I have plenty of support.”
“I feel like I am living in a little bit of heaven,” she said of her Celestine-area home, where she was born and that she and her husband were able to bring back into the family more than 40 years later. She has always enjoyed the property’s quiet and, no matter the season, its “beautiful scenery.”
One of the things she voiced appreciation for on the day we talked was being “treated to a show” from Mother Nature. That morning an isolated cloudburst of snow had dusted everything in white.
“I thought it was beautiful,” she said. “I thought that must have been a nature show just for me.”
Not only is it time to make Thanksgiving my favorite day of the year again, but my positive-minded friends have also shown me it’s time to make every day a day of thanksgiving.
Martha Rasche is assistant care-ordinator of the Dubois County Coalition for Adolescent Resilience and Empowerment (CARES) and is a member of the Dubois County Public Health Partnership Mental Health Committee. Email her at asstCARES@gmail.com.
Add an ornament to our tree
On the coffee table at our Dubois County CARES (Coalition for Adolescent Resilience and Empowerment Strategies) office, we have two gratitude journals. We invite any visitors, be they adults who belong to our coalition or members of our youth leadership team, to take time to add to a journal and to read what already is written there.
When CARES was asked to decorate the Christmas tree on the second floor of Jasper City Hall, we chose the theme of “Gratitude.” Among our decorations are paper ornaments listing some things for which we and others are grateful: sharing laughter with a co-worker today, living in a community who loves hard, meaningful friendships and deep conversations, just waking up and getting up, wildflowers, Pluto TV.
We have extra ornaments and pens nearby and invite you to jot down something for which you are grateful and add your ornament to our Gratitude Tree.