"I have so much to be thankful for. I wouldn't know where to begin," she said.
I wouldn't know either. As I looked around her home, I couldn't find a thing that she could include.
I have discovered that the friendliest, most welcoming people in the world are those who have little in the way of material things to offer. What they lack in possessions they make up for in spirit and love.
Some years ago I had been working for the Commission on Economic Opportunity. It was the year following a devastating flood in Pennsylvania. My job was to interview low-income families and assess their needs. Up until that moment I thought I had seen it all. The odd thing was I was looking at nothing at all, and this woman was thankful.
The home, though technically out of the flood area, looked like it had been a part of the destruction. The front porch steps were missing, replaced by a few cinder blocks and planks. There were several broken windows, and part of the foundation had caved in, exposing the basement to the weather.
That particular day it was in the upper 30s with a strong wind blowing. Snow was predicted by nightfall.
Thanksgiving Day was approaching, and quite frankly my heart was not into doing these surveys. Like many others, I just wanted to start my holiday early. This was the last stop for me. Tomorrow like millions of other families we would be gathered around the table filling ourselves to capacity.
Oddly I hadn't even thought about what this family was looking forward to. I just figured they would be taken care of by some organization or church. I looked around the kitchen for some sign of a charitable box of goodies but saw nothing there.
The house was bitter cold. The young children ran several times through the kitchen playing, laughing like any other kids. I happened to notice that they were barefoot on this cold linoleum floor.
At one point I said to one of the youngest girls, "You should go put your socks and shoes on before you get sick."
She replied, "Mommy, did this man bring me some shoes I can wear?"
"No, Sissy. He didn't. Go put on a pair of mine. He's right--you need something on your feet."
I was embarrassed for having put her in that position.
"Well, I'm finished here. Thank you for your time. I hope you have a wonderful...." I didn't know what to say. How could they possibly have a wonderful anything?
"Look, I'm sorry. I know there must not be much to be thankful for these days," I said nervously.
"Well, you certainly are wrong about that!" she said emphatically. Then, rising to her feet, she walked into the living room and stood in the middle.
"My dear, I am truly blessed for all of this. I know it doesn't look like much. But who made the rules that say that we can only be thankful for things that cost money?
"Sit here on this chair," she told me. "That chair may be worthless even to a junk dealer. But I sat in that chair and waited for months when my son was in the service. That was my worry chair. I sat in that chair, prayed and gave thanks when the good Lord brought him safely home to me. It was in that same chair I was sitting when my daughter came home from school and told me she was going to college ‘cause she got a full scholarship. It was my joyful chair.
It was also in that chair that I sat holding my daddy's hand when he died. They had sent him home telling us there was nothing more they could do. He wanted to be at home. We put the chair next to his bed, and I ate, slept, and cried as I sat in that chair holding his hand. He was all the world to me when I was growing up. I owed him that much.
"So how much is that chair worth in dollars? Nothing. But I wouldn't trade it for anything," she said.
Then walking over to a picture on the wall she said, "You see this man? He's the man that has loved me for all these years. He's at work now. He doesn't make much, but he works hard for it. He paid for that chair in sweat. How much money value do I put on him? There isn't enough money in all the world for the true value of love."
"Those kids running around the house. Yeah, maybe someone would say I'm not a good parent. But you go and ask them if they love their mommy and daddy. Then tell me how much that is worth," she said.
Then she added, "I'm thankful for my sight, I am thankful that I have good health, considering everything else. I am thankful for my faith. Oh, how thankful I am that I have something to believe in. I am thankful for the second-hand quilt the lady down the street gave me yesterday."
She gestured toward the other room. "Do you hear that laughter? I'm thankful my kids are playing and laughing like other kids in the neighborhood. How much would you pay to find something to laugh about when things aren't so good? There is so much I am thankful for that most people take for granted," she said. I stood up and picked up my briefcase. It was time to go.
She walked over to the chair I'd just vacated and sat down, adding, "So now I call this my 'Thankful Chair.' Tomorrow when we gather round the table to share whatever meal God will provide--and he always provides--I will be thankful that He sent you here to talk to me," she said, smiling.
I knew then that, in addition to making my report to the state, I would be coming back with a pair of shoes and socks, as well as some other ingredients for a happy Thanksgiving. "Thanks for sharing your 'Thankful Chair' with me," I said, walking out the door. "I believe one day I will find that priceless."
I was right.