There’s an essay that I like to read every Thanksgiving. It takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of the reasons I should be thankful. The essay became popular after Paul Harvey read it on his morning radio show on September 6, 1997.
If you’re under the age of 40, you’ve probably never heard of Paul Harvey. Harvey was a radio broadcaster for the ABC Radio networks and was famous for his weekly morning and mid-day reports. During his prime, more than 24 million people listened to him each week on 1,200 U.S. radio stations and 400 armed forces network stations.
Paul Harvey died on February 28, 2009, at that age of 90. Shortly before his death, he was still broadcasting his radio program on the ABC Radio networks. He had signed a 10-year renewal contract with ABC when he was 82 years old. When he died, he had two years remaining on his contract.
The essay which was written by Lee Pitts, an author and syndicated newspaper and magazine writer, came alive when Harvey read it with his unique voice and inflection. It comes alive every time I read it. Here’s the text of the essay:
We tried so hard to make things better for our kids that we made them worse. For my grandchildren, I’d like better. I’d really like for them to know about hand-me-down clothes and homemade ice cream and leftover meat-loaf sandwiches. I really would.
I hope you learn humility by being humiliated, and that you learn honesty by being cheated. I hope you learn to make your own bed and mow the lawn and wash the car. And I really hope nobody gives you a brand-new car when you are 16.
It will be good if at least one time you can see puppies born and your old dog put to sleep. I hope you get a black eye fighting for something you believe in. I hope you have to share a bedroom with your younger brother. And it’s all right if you have to draw a line down the middle of the room, but when he wants to crawl under the covers with you, because he’s scared, I hope you let him.
When you want to see a movie and your little brother wants to tag along, I hope you’ll let him. I hope you have to walk uphill to school with your friends and that you live in a town where you can do it safely. On rainy days when you have to catch a ride, I hope you don’t ask your driver to drop you two blocks away so you won’t be seen riding with someone as uncool as your mom.
If you want a slingshot, I hope your dad teaches you how to make one instead of buying one. I hope you learn to dig in the dirt and read books. When you learn to use computers, I hope you also learn to add and subtract in your head. I hope you get teased by your friends when you have your first crush on a girl, and when you talk back to your mother that you learn what Ivory soap tastes like.
May you skin your knee climbing a mountain, burn your hand on a stove, and stick your tongue on a frozen flagpole. If a friend offers you dope or a joint, I hope you realize he is not your friend.
I sure hope you make time to sit on a porch with your grandpa and go fishing with your uncle. May you feel sorrow at a funeral and joy during the holidays. I hope your mother punishes you when you throw a baseball through you neighbor’s window and that she hugs you and kisses you at Christmas time when you give her a plaster mold of your hand.
These things I wish for you – tough times and disappointment, hard work and happiness.
The reason I like the essay so much is because it reminds me of my own experiences growing up in a family of 17 children.
I remember the hand-me-down clothes and the homemade ice cream. (We made homemade ice cream from the cream that we skimmed off the raw milk we got from the cow my dad milked every night.)
I remember being forced to make my own bed, mow the lawn, and wash the car.
I remember breaking my leg on a September morning when I was 10 years old. I had finished building a tree house with my 11-year-old friend the month before I broke my leg.
I remember the argument I had with my dad when he refused to buy me a used car. We were standing in the kitchen when it happened. I was 16 and felt as though I was entitled to a vehicle. He stood his ground and told me that if I wanted a car, I was going to have to get a job and pay for it myself.
I got pretty good at doing things to make my older sister Mary happy because I needed to make sure she would be willing to loan me her car when I needed it.
I bought my first car when I was 18 — a rusty 1968 Ford Falcon 500. I paid $150 for the car. It died after three months, but that was okay because a week after I junked it, I went off to college.
I remember seeing a calf being born in my dad’s barn. My dad helped the process along by tying a rope around the legs of the calf and gently pulling it out of its mother’s birth canal.
During all the years that I lived in my parents’ home, I had to share a bedroom with one or more of my younger brothers. For a few years while I was in grade school, I slept in the same bedroom with three of my brothers. Four boys in one room, on bunk beds.
I remember when my 13-month-old sister died in my mom’s arms, a tragedy that still brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it.
There were numerous occasions when one or more of my younger brothers tagged along while I went on one of my self-proclaimed adventures. We made our own slingshots, learned to dig in the dirt, carved our initials in the highest tree limb in the neighborhood, competed in sports, shot guns, threw knives at trees, and spent hours at the picnic table playing board games.
We skinned our knees and burned our hands more than once in fires that we started in the woods next to our home. And yes, I even stuck my tongue on a frozen pole when one of my cousins dared me to do it.
I know what soap tastes like because there was one occasion when my mom washed my mouth out because I had said something disrespectful to her.
Some of my best memories include working with my grandfather and sitting with him in his living room watching his favorite westerns.
Each of the experiences that I remember were a part of God’s complex plan for me. Although there was pain and disappointment, there was also joy and happiness.
We should all be thankful for everything God has allowed us to go through. Hopefully, all those experiences have helped us to become wiser and more compassionate individuals.