With Thanksgiving only days away, I can’t help but think of my dad, who died Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008 — the day before Thanksgiving four years ago.
It’s hard to believe he’s been gone for four years, perhaps because it felt as if he was with me for much of this past year. As everyone who has read this blog regularly knows, I spent eight months this year as an unemployed and uncertain 45-year-old. The experience gave me an even greater appreciation for my parents, who started over with little more than the clothes on their backs in the late 1980s after they lost the farm where Dad had lived and worked his entire life. He was 47 at the time.
On Oct. 29, I joined Muscatine Center for Social Action as its deputy director. The job, which I started five days before my 46th birthday, answered the prayers of my mother, who, I’m pretty sure, said them for me on a daily basis for eight months.
I prayed some, too. But I mainly told myself that I could start over and succeed because Mom and Dad had already done it. It became a personal mantra.
And now I’m nearly a month into my new job at MCSA, a non-profit organization established in 1991 to serve those in need. About 50 people are living this week in the three shelters at MCSA: The men’s dorm, the family shelter and the emergency overnight shelter.
Above all else, MCSA is a place where people can come to start over. They are offered affordable housing that is well cared for and clean. On most days, meals are fed to residents who are hungry. Career counseling and other educational opportunities are available at MCSA for residents who seek them.
That I have found myself working at a place like MCSA and with Muscatine residents who need a helping hand has reminded me of an early lesson taught by my parents. One of my earliest memories involves taking a plate of cookies my mom had baked at Christmas for two men who worked on the farm for my dad and grandpa.
Willie Flesher and Charlie Daniels lived not far from our farm in a sparse old house they rented — the kind of place that was heated by a stove and furnished with second- and third-hand hand me downs. They were both World War II veterans and alcoholics. I remember them as men who were kind to a little boy. They also must have been good employees when they were sober, which is why I think my folks found work for them on our farm.
Willie died in February 1972. He was only 46 (are you picking up on a theme here?) When Willie died, my dad was 33; I was 5. I don’t remember whatever happened to Charlie, who wasn’t originally from the area. I wasn’t able to dig up much information about him, but I’ll never forget Charlie and Willie even though I don’t really remember what they looked like. In my mind, I see them as Willie and Joe, the characters made famous by Bill Maudlin, a cartoonist for Stars and Stripes during WWII.
Chances are pretty good they would be MCSA residents if, somehow, in 2012, they arrived in Muscatine as 40-something-year-old veterans looking for work or struggling with alcoholism or mental illness. And I couldn’t help but think of them as I began to meet some of the residents who do live here. They are people I am honored to know and help because it’s what I watched my parents do 40 years ago.
It was the right thing to do then.
It’s the right thing to do now. As you gather this year for Thanksgiving, please consider giving thanks by giving of your time, talent or treasure to help those who need it.