Vail Daily column: Giving thanks for nothing |

Vail Daily column: Giving thanks for nothing

Jack Van Ens

When the cupboard is bare because of hard times, we feel as if “a wolf’s at the door.” It’s tempting, then, to gripe because we have nothing for which to give thanks.

During difficult days, children’s literature written with a humorous twist offers coping lessons. Thanksgiving with the Tappletons, a book for youngsters, pictures a grim Thanksgiving for a family of wolves. It teaches the key to gratitude when a plump turkey and pumpkin pie with ice cream are missing.

Members of the Tappleton family pledge to bring a mouthwatering dish to the Thanksgiving feast. The family pitches in with favorite foods, from revered Grandfather Tappleton to antsy Jenny.

The Tappleton wolves’ careful plans crater into howling mishaps. Mouth-watering food gets waylaid because of accidents. Young Jenny loves mashed potatoes. Taking a shortcut, she plops spuds into a blender whirling at high speed. This mixer spews them on the kitchen’s ceiling and walls. No problem, responds Jenny. Family members bring extra helpings of their dishes. Mashed potatoes won’t get missed.

Calamity continues. Mr. Tappleton visits the neighborhood bakery to purchase apple pie and is stunned by a “closed” sign in the window. Mrs. Tappleton bastes a turkey. The bird’s greasy skin is slippery. She loses her grip as the turkey flies out the back door and slides down a hill into a pond where it sinks into muddy water.

Mishaps haunt each Tappleton. This unlucky wolf family doesn’t worry, though, because others cover their backs. In previous Thanksgivings, there’s been plenty of food to go around because the wolves prepare more than their hungry stomachs digest.

Such a cheery outlook turns grim on Thanksgiving Day. Wolves gather around a table bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. They rehearse calamities. Riveting attention on the food that didn’t make it to table makes everyone ravenous.

The empty table represents an equation the wolves don’t want to digest: “No food = no feast.” Uncle Fritz’s stomach growls loudly. The empty table prompts young Kenny to bare his fangs. He sighs, “There’s nothing to say a prayer for.”

But Grandma Tappleton knows something about how gratitude works. She declares “There’s always something to say a prayer for.” Grandma prays:

Turkeys come and turkeys go

And trimmings can be lost, we know.

But we’re together; that’s what matters

Not what’s served on the platters.

This Tappleton prayer is answered as the famished wolves munch cheese sandwiches with pickles that pucker faces. Dessert is bland applesauce from a can. But attitude is everything.

The wolves relish their feast. The Tappletons delight in friendship and savor shared memories and stories. They don’t have much, but they have each other.

This wolf family doesn’t resort to gallows humor over their meager menu. They didn’t sound like Orlando Magic Basketball General Manager Pat Williams, when his team’s record in 1992 was nothing to brag about. Williams groused, “We can’t win at home. We can’t win on the road. As general manager I just can’t figure out where else to play.”

Ancient Jews didn’t sound like Pat Williams as they ascended Judean foothills towards Jerusalem. God was everywhere and in all places, they believed, but His favorite residence was Jerusalem. These Jews sang, “Enter His courts with thanksgiving!” (Psalm 100:4).

Bellies full. Spirits upbeat. Tables ladened with tasty food. It’s easy to be thankful when there’s plenty for which to be thankful.

Grandmother Tappleton’s prayer, however, reminds us how to cultivate gratitude when there’s next to nothing.

We have each other. The gift of life is ours. A bare table doesn’t force us to sup on meager gratitude. Essayist Joseph Fort Newton describes the spirit that engenders thanks when it’s difficult to count blessings. Newton wrote: “Lincoln said people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. He was so right. We must vow to adjust ourselves to what is—our families, our business, and our opportunities. If we cannot have what we like, we can like what we have.”

Focus on Grandma Tappleton’s wolf-wisdom. Be grateful for what you have rather than nurse regrets for what you lack. Hollow nothings that hold us down don’t compare with hallowed families and friends that lift us up.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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