Sunday dinners were a tradition in our home growing up. My mom would cook a delicious meal, set the dining room table with the good china, candles and all, and my dad would put on a Johnny Mathis record for background music. It was great family time that we enjoyed. It was also there that I learned so many lessons about life from the stories my dad told us. If I could choose one word to describe the theme of his lessons, it is gratitude.
Our family was “comfortable” growing up as our parents put it, but it wasn’t always that way. Dad grew up in a very poor neighborhood, and with God’s gift of a phenomenal pitching arm, he was able to go to college on a baseball scholarship. He was from an urban high school after all, and kids from that neighborhood didn’t often go to college. But he did, and while he didn’t end up a pro ballplayer, he got a degree in accounting that enabled him to have a rewarding career and support our family. A true rags to riches, pick yourself up by your bootstraps story. There were the stories of the people too, those special people in his life who loved him, encouraged him, and mentored him. My mom was and is still one of those people. It made an impression on me, his gratitude for the people and opportunities that impacted his life (and ultimately ours), and also that he took those opportunities and made the most of them. Being aware of those blessings and serendipities along the way lead to gratitude for the life we have and an appreciation of a plan bigger than ourselves.
Dad is also well grounded and sensible, and when I was a bratty kid questioning why we didn’t have all of the cool toys and expensive things that our friends’ families had, dad made a statement that sticks with me today. He told me that at the end of the month he was able to pay all the bills rather than choosing which to pay and which had to wait, and living a good life had little to do with the things you acquire. Appearances can be deceiving. I learned that resources can only be used once, and if you’re buying toys and not paying bills, the price is your peace of mind. He taught me to look for sales and how to compare prices, and that being a prudent and careful shopper means those resources can be stretched, but a bargain is no bargain if the quality is poor.
A heart filled with gratitude tends to overflow with generosity, and my parents are no exception. For as long as I can remember, they have volunteered in the community, given back to pay it forward so others could have opportunity too, and have had a warm and welcoming home. They have been an example to our family, that what we have is to be shared- whether it’s our time, our talents, or our treasures, and through that we can make our little corner of the world a better place.
Our family dinners are less frequent now, but just as special. My mom is ever the fantastic chef and hostess, welcoming more and more into our family circle as the years go by, and those dinner time stories are now being passed down to their grandchildren. That’s a great legacy.