How many times have I assigned students to write that Thanksgiving holiday essay entitled, ‘What I Am Thankful for This Year’. Young and old, when it boiled right down, children listed their families at the top of the list. After the obligatory nods to the great Thanksgiving food and favorite toys, almost every student realized that what could not be replaced, what was most valuable was to love and be loved.
Now I am the writing that Thanksgiving essay. When I saw this assignment in the roster, I felt a little qualm. I knew that I should write a piece about my gratitude for the God of my understanding. But I knew immediately, with that knee jerk response that what I am most grateful for is my family, husband and children. I feel grateful to God for my family. In my world, I can’t have one without the other. God and family go hand in hand. Like my Irish claddagh ring.
Thanksgiving brings my family, and especially my children to my heart even more integrally, by an incident which occurred at Thanksgiving back in 2005. My husband who works the graveyard shift at Sara-Lee foods, arrived home one morning, shortly before Thanksgiving. It’s his habit to listen to the news on the way home, for weather reports, school closings and general community news. On this frosty November morning, he came in the door, literally shaken and white.
He burst out, ‘Michael Herman was killed in a car accident last night.’ Mikey was the fifteen year old son of some dear friends of ours. We all looked dumbfounded. ‘Our Michael Herman?’ I asked, stupidly. My husband nodded, mouth agape. Michael and our son Albert, although not seeing as much of each because we had homeschooled our children, had been fast friends, just about from birth. Michael, fifteen years old, out driving on those back roads in Robinson Township with his mother. Roads that become treacherous around this time of year, with oft unseen ‘black’ ice. That’s ice that doesn’t look like ice, to those who’ve never driven a Michigan winter.
Mike and his mother were doing what every parent and fifteen year old and were doing. They were practicing his driving skills on his temporary permit. Michael would be 16 on December 10 and every teen knows that your 16th birthday equals driving test and issuing of the official driver’s license. Unfortunately, Michael never saw sixteen candles or that driver’s license. That devious, hateful black ice sent their car spinning and it overturned in a ditch. His mother suffered multiple injuries and Michael went to be with Jesus.
For the first three years, I thought of Michael and his family every day after the accident. Now he comes to mind a little less frequently. But always on occasions when my own then fifteen and now almost twenty year son old passes a milestone. First prom. First steady girlfriend. First time getting in trouble. First job. Graduation. First day of college. Birthdays. All those events that I am privileged to share with my son. Even those less pleasant events and occasions. My friends will never get to see those events. Never get to hug Michael’s new bride or hold Michael’s children. I often thank God for my children. Especially when I think of Michael’s family. Especially at Thanksgiving. Requiescat in Pace, Mikey. You are not forgotten.