Stark-Style Gratitude

As the air cuts through my coat with a chill, I breathe, then cough the growing thickness. It is heavy with snow. The wind whips the powdery snow circling my imagination.

For that is the only place it could be.

It does not look a lot like Christmas here in Northern California with days in the high seventies and nights in the mid-forties.

What does look festive are the storefronts, the Christmas barrels outside Bank of America and at every school and Church in Hughson, the event announcements and the rapidly filling calendar begging for special planning and celebration.

Our Thanksgiving is quiet and simple with a tried and true menu

Photo by Alison Marras on Unsplash

Garlic mashed potatoes, sourdough and sage stuffing, a home-made loaf of challah, classic cranberry sauce, the traditional turkey with bourbon gravy and pumpkin pie. The day before we prepare the potatoes (they are better reheated), the bread and the cranberry sauce. The stuffing is cut and prepped as much as possible. My mother supplies the pie (because why mess with perfection?). Thanksgiving Day is spent basting the turkey, watching “Miracle on 34th Street,” and when we sit, reviewing not just our blessings from the day, but offering thanks for blessings from the year.

Blessings this year

The year brought a new home, a published book, a successful homeschool routine (unlike last year), a new position with this newspaper (Assignment Editor) and a new baby (not yet seen but felt regularly by me). For my husband, new and expanded work.

My nine-year-old prepares her answer, “I’m glad we got a new home which is in the country.”

My seven-year-old quickly offers, “my Legos.”

My five-year-old coos, “my treasures.”

All three realize they have forgotten to express their thankfulness for the tiny black kitten bounding about the house.

My three-year-old resists answering the question until he has finished playing. His quietly says his simple answer, “Daddy.”

To think of this child, what could be greater than looking at a year past and realizing in just a few short weeks, he could reach an entire year without illness, this child who once was admitted to the hospital every other week, sometimes for weeks at a time, sometimes with life-threatening concerns.

A reflective look

Feeling reflective, it is only now that I can look back and see how the events of my early life are connected to life right now. Personality does not change that much, but I can see more clearly than ever the foundations laid in my thinking and faith that created the stability we needed to pursue the present.

My husband and I reconnect with our roots as we reconnect to the land of our new home. In writing long-form works, I return to the stuff of my childhood, pounding away at an archaic Macintosh. My work for this newspaper becomes an opportunity to do good by promoting those better able to be out in the world caring for the stranger. A new baby reminds us of the hope and peace we experienced in earlier pregnancies before our world was rocked again…and again.

Nathan Stark in Concert

I have no doubt this reflection will carry over as I journey out of our snug home, down the rushing Whitmore Avenue to the familiarity of Hughson High School to see opera singer Nathan Stark returning to his roots, to work with, encourage, and perform with students at his alma mater in the Hughson High School Auditorium, December 6 at 7 p.m.

The “Stark Raving Concert” shows the connections of small-town Hughson in all its best ways: an international opera star offers workshops to dedicated high school students in a small town, taught by Brad Thompson, one of Stark’s mentors and inspirations. Proceeds from the concert with them will benefit the local food bank.

Tickets are available at the door for this unique event, celebrating the return to one’s roots, gratitude for the good things of the season, and a look ahead to all the potential of tomorrow.

Layers of Thanks

From the superficial to the depth, there are more layers of thanks than meet the eye.


I teach my children to say, “thank you.” The understanding is, you give me something, I respond in thanks. At its most basic level, we express our thanks acknowledging the words or actions of another individual on our behalf.

“Thank you,” I say.

“You’re welcome,” he responds. And we move on.


The next level moves deeper into the heart. The aid or compliment was not an extra, unnecessary action, but fulfilled a need. I wanted pictures hung because I stare at the walls while resting during pregnancy, and he hung them, even though he hates to hang pictures. This expression goes beyond the basic manners we teach our three-year-old. My words not only acknowledge that you acted in some way to help, assist, or raise me up, but I appreciate the gift or sacrifice on your part to do it. It takes time to think about what it cost you to deepen my gratitude.


When I am no longer incapacitated by physical limitations or the overwhelming stuff of life, I can venture into the third level of thanks: exchange. I acknowledge; I appreciate; and, now, your action inspires action in me, to do likewise for others, as they did to me.

As parents register their kids this season or sign up as volunteers for Hughson Youth Baseball/Softball, we see the same. Baseball and other sports added something of value to their childhood. They want to pay it forward. It is this exchange, this realization of the good given selflessly and then acting on the movement of the heart to give in return that keeps small towns small and rich.


There is yet a deeper level, one in which the understanding begins to dawn upon reflection. This person did something for me, and I can never repay him. His gift was not merely a word, a small deed, but a series of actions, spread out across time, of patient words, of no words when words would not help, of generosity without thanks. Over time, it grows into a gift of self defying the imagination in our cynical grown-up-ness. It is the realization of what parents endure for their child, of what spouses of many years grow into, of what lifelong friends bring to the table.

You gave of yourself. All I can do is stand in awe. I can acknowledge, I can appreciate, I can attempt to exchange, but no effort seems to match what you have done for me.

So, in silence I receive.

These are the moments that bring tears to the eyes. When I was a teenager, outraged with the world, my mother trimmed my nails: a simple gesture of care. It was all she could do at the moment, shedding light on the whole reality that she would give her life for me if only I would let her.

We never reach this level without sacrifice, without letting a part of our will die for the good the other.

Person holding umbrella for a child with storm clouds in the background to illustrate the role of relationship in gratitude.
Photo by J W on Unsplash

This level of thanks, awe, comes only in relationship.

A relationship established, worked on, suffered through, endured, and improved to allow it to grow into something beyond what we could ever imagine: more grandchildren than we can keep track of, a 50th wedding anniversary, friendship in which one travels across the country to dress my kids for bed while I grieve.

We may feel we live our whole life hidden. But as we learned from the Frank Capra film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” no man is a failure who has friends. Let’s find a way to give thanks this November, on all levels.

Want to experience these levels on the community level?

Join the Hughson Ministerial Association on November 21 for the 3rd Annual “Hughson Says Thanks” event at 6 pm at Hughson High School in which representatives from local partner agencies will come together for this now annual event that is held to recognize those that make Hughson a great place to live. A short program will be provided with refreshments to follow. For more information, contact 209.883.4476 or 209.883.0469.