Guest Commentary: Thanksgiving: It’s time, with thanks, to count our blessings

"When you're worried and you can't sleep," Irving Berlin wrote as the lyrics of one of his songs, "just count your blessings instead of sheep, and you'll fall asleep counting your blessings."

That thought crossed my mind again on a Saturday morning in October, a rare day with no wind, when the sun was out, the tree leaves were glorious, cross country runners clad in various colors were warming up on the course on the north side of Vermillion, high school bands in the distance were outside the DakotaDome warming up for a festival, and all – for an hour at least – was well with the world.

 At Thanksgiving time for many years I've written a column for whoever would bother to read it.  Since you have chosen to do so, let me say "Happy Thanksgiving."  May you and yours find just as many things for which to be thankful this year as I have on my list:

Four perfect grandchildren, all of whom live in the same city now . . . bookstores . . . Charlie Coyote . . . warm pumpkin pie topped with Cool Whip . . . the uniqueness of South Dakota where, no matter where you go, you can find somebody who knows somebody who knows you . . . the hometown newspaper in the mailbox each week . . . fellow walkers who cheerfully say "Hello" and "Good morning" as we pass on the sidewalks . . . the Black Hills Playhouse . . . the music of "Les Miserables" . . . deviled eggs.

"Touch 'em all, Justin Morneau" (or any other Twin who is healthy enough to be in the lineup) . . . my hour with a morning cup of coffee over a copy of USA Today in the MUC . . . the glorious sound of music in the renovated auditorium at Slagle Hall . . . pumpkin bread . . . the rush of seeing a car bearing a license plate from home . . . memories of Duke, Queenie, Buppy, Tippy, Malcolm, Bud, Maggie, Oliver and all the other dogs who have graced my life . . . homecoming parades . . . the view out across the valley from West Main.

Four children who as adults have become each other's strongest friends, defenders, protectors and supporters . . . train whistles at night as the freights rumble through town down below the bluffs . . . hot chocolate . . . the scent of rain in the air . . . Duke Blue Devils basketball . . . a Tom & Jerry on a frosty holiday morning . . . Minneapolis-St. Paul . . . the first glimpse of the DakotaDome roof while coming down I-29 . . . Octobers . . . playoff baseball such as we had this year . . . sweet potatoes smothered in marshmallows.

Easy crossword puzzles . . . people who stop to watch Oliver stalk squirrels on the campus and then continue on their way smiling . . . "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and the memories it evokes . . . the talented and personable young men and women of the USD music department who welcome me into their midst each day . . . cheerful supermarket workers we get to know on a first-name basis . . . Summit League basketball tournaments . . . Handel's "Messiah" . . . summer baseball evenings . . . strawberry shortcake.

Memories of Mom, Dad and Grandma Maggie amid regrets they never got to know my grandkids . . . the Sound of USD marching band . . . the Christmas trees in the Capitol Rotunda . . . the ultimate tribute to an organist – a compliment from Jack Noble . . . a surprise e-mail from someone from whom I haven't heard in a long time . . . the military men and women on deployments and the supportive families keeping things going at home . . . a harvest moon . . . seeing the light in the tower of Old Main out my kitchen window . . . a Louie Krogman 3-pointer to beat the buzzer.

"Free popcorn Fridays" at the MUC . . . Garrison Keillor and "Prairie Home Companion" . . . wind chimes . . . the USD brass choir . . . getting green lights on Cherry Street all the way through town . . . turkey pot pies . . . the ladies and guys at the public library . . . the nervous energy of a vocal student as his or her recital time approaches . . . my fellow surviving members of the OHS Class of '56 . . . a penny on the sidewalk . . . brownies . . . South Dakota sunrises and sunsets . . . Wrigley Field and the Cubs, hopeless as they may be.

Sunday mornings from their early quiet time to powerful hymns, choir anthems and messages to coffee and conversation afterward . . . peanut butter and jelly sandwiches . . . Bob Bowker and his cronies on Tanager radio broadcasts . . . the Paradise Fears boys . . . hot apple cider . . . the first blooming flowers in the spring . . . the first sight of the lights of Pierre from 15 miles out . . . the sun streaming through stained-glass windows . . . riding the Light Rail downtown to a Twins or Vikings game . . . cross country meets.

My daily hour with the USD opera class . . . families together at a Christmas Eve service . . . Greg Merrigan's signature voice at USD games and the state track meets . . . hot dogs on a grill . . . a university president who rolls down his car window to talk about one's dog . . . rhubarb in any form . . . the exhilaration of Game Day at USD – the tailgating and the band's arrival, the pre-game show, the howl of the coyotes and the roar of the motorcycles, the third-down alarm bells and the band's fight songs, Will Powell's astounding receptions, and "that's another Coyote first down!" . . . public servants who live the part.

The College World Series . . . the sense of family that pervades the Vermillion Community Theatre cast each summer . . . friends who ask "How are you?" and really want to know the answer . . . shuffling through leaves while strolling across campus . . . a phone call from one of the kids or a friend to reassure me they arrived there safely . . . Washington, D.C. . . . sing-alongs of musical theater music . . . Nicholas Sparks' latest book . . . the pizza guy's knock on the door . . . relaxing with friends on a rare night out somewhere downtown . . . the "Skol, Vikings" fight song and those rare occasions we get to sing it.

Thornton Wilder said, "We can be said to be alive only in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."  May we be aware of ours not only on Thanksgiving Day but each day beyond as well.

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