Last year I had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at my friend's house. I arrived just as we were being invited to take our places at the table and I felt a little awkward because I didn't know a number of the other guests. I looked toward the kitchen expecting someone to bring on the food. It sure smelled good, and I was hungry.
Imagine my confusion when my host looked around the table at each of his guests and asked, "Who wants to start?"
I knew there was supposed to be food, but I still didn't see any, not even a relish dish or a breadbasket to pass. What were we supposed to do? Pass imaginary bowls filled with imaginary mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey and cranberry sauce? No one spoke.
Finally my host's eyes settled on his seven-year-old niece.
Cindy stood up, cleared her throat and smiled at her brother. "Thank you, Jimmy, for teaching me to play games on your computer."
Jimmy blushed and said, "You're welcome."
Eric, a nice looking young man with bright blue eyes was next. He thanked his parents for giving him his first telescope when he was ten, and for the many hours they spent encouraging his appreciation for the wonders of the universe. I learned later that Eric had been accepted into a post graduate program to study Astronomy.
My friend, Ron, the host, said thank you to his wife. "I really appreciate the way you put up with my complaining, your understanding and patience with my cause fighting. I love the wonderful meals you prepare for me everyday, your companionship and your sense of humor. Thank you for being my wife."
Liz smiled and answered, "You're welcome."
I was beginning to get the picture. I had some thank you's of my own and I was getting heady with the whole idea but I decided to watch and listen a bit longer.
"Thank you for taking care of me when I had such a bad case of flu last winter, Rose. I know how terribly unpleasant that must have been for you, and you were so kind to put your own life aside for a few days to stay with me." Gina's eyes were damp when she looked at her daughter. "You were such a comfort." Then she turned to her son-in-law. "Thank you too, Karl, for fending for yourself and the kids while she was taking care of me."
"You're welcome." "You're welcome."
Then Rose stood up and walked over to where her husband was sitting. She bent down and gave him a kiss. "Thank you, honey, for working so hard and supporting us and giving me the opportunity to be the stay at home mom I'd always hoped I could be."
Chuck thanked his friend Bob for all the wonderful tomatoes and other produce Bob gave him during harvest time. He also thanked Jerry and Judy for teaching him how to make the world's greatest apple sauce. Jean thanked Patty for listening when she needed a sympathetic ear. Juan thanked his grandmother for the loan and told her he had put the money to good use. Sonja thanked her neighbor, Dorene, for the wonderful homemade mayonnaise and other goodies. And on it went.
I was thinking about all the wonderful people I wanted to thank. I guess I was drifting off in some sort of a trance when I heard the next person mention my name.
"Thank you, Marilyn." She said, "You helped my daughter and son-in-law through some rough spots in their marriage."
I waved my hand in a never mind gesture. "I was just doing my job."
Ron nearly knocked over his water glass as he stood to interrupt me. "No, no, no. That's not allowed." He shook his pointer at me. "These are the rules. You only get to say 'you're welcome'. If you explain it away you discredit the message and invalidate the sincerity of the person saying thanks. You just got a sincere 'thank you', Marilyn. Now, say 'you're welcome'." He sat down and fiddled with his napkin.
"Oops. I'm sorry. I mean " I looked at the woman who'd thanked me and said, "You're welcome." Then I smiled at my host and hostess. "And thank you, Ron and Liz, for inviting me to share in such a beautiful tradition."
Ron grinned. "You're welcome." Liz nodded, "You're welcome."
It took a full thirty minutes to get around the table and all the thanks-giving's. When we finished Liz excused herself to put the finishing touches on the food and Ron poured the wine.
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