Breakfast isn’t the meal you normal think of first when it comes to considering Thanksgiving Day festivities. But for 42 years, this was my family’s tradition … to gather together for breakfast.

You might wonder how such an event came to be. Perhaps because my grandfather was an only child, he loved having his family and friends (who he considered to be family) close by, especially on holidays. Thanksgiving was no exception.

As his kids grew into adulthood and began to marry, my grandfather complained to my grandmother that he could not figure out when to have the family Thanksgiving meal so that all five of his children could be there at one time. This one needed to be at their in-laws for a noon meal. That one had a 2 pm meal to attend. Another one needed to be somewhere for an Thanksgiving supper-time meal. My grandmother teased him, “Well, no one has a claim on breakfast yet!”

And so, that’s how Thanksgiving Breakfast came to be.

I’m not exactly sure how those first Thanksgiving Breakfasts went, but by the time I was old enough to remember the entire event took place back behind my grandparent’s house in a wooden recreation building that my grandfather called “The Outhouse.” It was crudely outfitted with cast off living room furniture, an old wooded church pew, and a pool table covered with a piece of plywood. At one end was a large fireplace and at the other end was a wood-burning stove. You could comfortably fit 15 or so people inside, but on Thanksgiving morning we crammed 50 or more into that small space.

On Thanksgiving morning, members of my family got up early to start prepping for the celebration. Someone had to build the fires in the fire pits and start the biscuits cooking. Inside “The Outhouse,” the fireplace roared. Right next to it, sat my grandfather in his chair — “holding court” as he greeted all the guests. No one entered without first stopping by to speak to my grandfather.

Across the room from my grandfather, my Uncle Ken cooked eggs in a cast iron skillet on the top of a wood burning stove, while one pan of biscuits baked to perfection in it’s old oven.  (The remaining 120+ biscuits cooked down in “The Big House” where my grandparents lived.)

The rest of the family members made treks, up and down the brick steps, back and forth from The Big House to The Outhouse, carrying delicacies like Monkey Bread and large pots of piping hot grits and trays filled with slices of ham or turkey or even sausage.

It was early in the morning that the first guests started arriving. By 7:30 am, the driveway was crowded with cars and the chatter of voices carried all over the hillside. For the next two hours, everyone would huddle together in small groups, mugs of steaming coffee or hot chocolate in one hand and a plate piled high with biscuits, eggs and warm cinnamon rolls in the other. Laughter could be seen and not just heard as every breath hung in the air like tiny puffs of smoke. Hugs were as plentiful as the food.  Every year, Thanksgiving morning was a morning I wished would never end.

Eventually though, the crowds would depart, each friend or family member headed home to prepare for other Thanksgiving meals later in the day. Those of us left would clean up The Outhouse, throw away the trash and put away the food. My brother and cousins would pile plates high with the extra food, then head out to make deliveries to a few elderly shut-ins and other folks my grandfather thought might appreciate being remembered with a plate of food.

Since 1973, this is the way every Thanksgiving I can remember went.  Seeing as I was born in 1972, this is truly the only sort of Thanksgiving I have enjoyed. And a part of me believed it would go on forever.

But my grandfather died this past spring … and after a lot of discussion, it was decided that Thanksgiving Breakfast had reached its natural end.

This morning, I woke up at my mother’s, our Thanksgiving meal over as we had celebrated on Wednesday night. We set about taking care of other chores, mainly beginning to decorate The Big House for Christmas.

Mid-morning, my mother sent me to The Outhouse to look for her missing step-ladder, which we needed to hang up the stockings.  Without thinking, I headed to the back door, opened it up and stepped onto the brick steps leading up to The Outhouse. The morning breeze caressed my face, and without warning I heard the echoes of 42 years worth of thankful hearts gathered on that hillside, which now seemed strangely silent to my ears.

As I neared The Outhouse, I passed by a cold fire pit, but I could nearly smell the smoke wafting in the air. As I opened the door and let myself inside, I heard the sizzling of the hot cast iron skillet. I felt the heat of fireplace. I squeezed past the shoulders of guests to get closer to my grandfather’s chair.

Only no one was there. The fireplace was not roaring with a fire. Nothing was cooking.

Tears began to form in the corners of my eyes, threatening to fall. The back of my throat burned hot.  The weight of the end of something loved and good felt heavier than I expected.

Then, I remembered the step-ladder and why I needed it.

Down in The Big House, I needed to hang seventy stockings.

SEVENTY. (It’s not a typo.)

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They hang along two walls in the over-sized dining room of The Big House, a band of colorful felt. No two are alike. Each one handmade. The stockings are as unique as the individuals they represent.

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I can’t help but look at that long line of stockings and think to myself, “The only child got the big family of his dreams.”

A marriage that lasted 60 years.Five children. Thirteen grandchildren. Thirty-five great-grandchildren.  It’s not just DNA either, for in that seventy are adopted children, step-children, and foster children.

This is the legacy my grandfather left … not money or possessions or even beloved traditions. But people. He loved big and he always had room for one more at his table, whether it was for coffee or Sunday dinner or Thanksgiving Breakfast.

Today I’m thinking about my family and our traditions … and I’m grateful for my grandfather and his legacy for it reflects something in God’s nature too.

God loves big. In fact, His love is the biggest there is. And He always has room for one more.

Some day in heaven there will be a great banquet. A feast to end all feasts. Thanksgiving Breakfast will pale in comparison!

And I wonder about the table. How wide and how long it will be! Even so, at God’s great table, there is always room for more.

Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. ~Revelation 19:9

Let’s you and me agree to always have room for another guest at the table.

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