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COMMENTARY: Remembering why we give thanks on this day

Is the glass half empty or half full?

In my experience it’s always been half full — and that’s one of many things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

We lost my father this year, and that leaves a huge hole in our hearts — until we focus on the life he lived so well and the many wonderful, loving memories of him my family and I will always have. I got to experience 59 Thanksgivings with my dad, give or take — 59 cheerful gatherings in which he recited Grace before 40 or more cheerful extended family members.

I have random flashes of my dad throughout the days now — memories that come at me out of the blue.

I vividly remember one Saturday in December 1967, when I was 5. It was uncharacteristically warm in Pittsburgh that year. My father was 34 then and his hair was black as coal. He stood nearly 6-foot-2, a powerful man.

As he lifted our Christmas tree off the roof of our white Ford station wagon, I marveled that his biceps and forearms were bigger than Popeye the Sailor Man’s! It wasn’t too many years later that I — his only son — became his sidekick to complete multiple family tasks.

Every Thursday, after dinner, we boarded our Plymouth Fury III station wagon and headed to the Del Farm grocery store in a small suburban plaza one mile away. I pushed the cart as I helped him work through the long shopping list my mother provided until the cart was packed to the ceiling.

When we finally pulled the loaded-down station wagon into our garage, everyone in the house was alerted, and the massive unloading process began. It was like a Red Cross relief operation. And then the theme song for “The Waltons” would begin to play, just as we settled down for our snacks and a new episode of one of my favorite shows.

I didn’t know then why I loved that family show so much, but I know now.

I loved it because my mother and father gave up so much to give so much to us, and that still fills me with a profound sense of security. The stress of feeding us on one income took its toll on my mom and dad. When I was 18, we thought my dad had suffered a heart attack. I couldn’t stop the tears as I raced behind the ambulance taking him to the hospital.

But the doctor got his diagnosis wrong, and boy, was it wonderful to get my healthy, sturdy dad back home to celebrate the holidays that year.

I got my first nice car when I was 24, a 1986 Pontiac Firebird with T-tops, and I can still see my dad laughing out loud as he revved the motor and smoked the wheels — payback for the damage his lead-footed son had done to several of his cars.

I wasn’t thankful for his behavior that day, but it makes me laugh out loud now.

We are all lost in our own ways without my dad. My mother, with him nearly 70 years, is especially suffering, and for me that’s the most painful part.

But despite the grief, my glass is more than half full. Thanksgiving for my family this year cannot in any way be the same without my dad there, but I’ll do my best to recite Grace in his absence.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.

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