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Commentary: We all have things to be thankful for this year

Thanksgiving Day remains a special holiday across America. It is an important time for family and for giving thanks for all our blessings.

In our family, there was always something special about Thanksgiving Day. Family always got together and we grew up hearing about an ancestor being a Mayflower Pilgrim.

Being a journalist by profession, I followed the maxim "If your mother tells you it is so, you better check out the facts." So I eventually became a family genealogist and confirmed the family tree connection of my maternal grandmother Grace Ross back to John Howland; his wife, Elizabeth Tilley; and her parents, who all sailed on the Mayflower in 1620.

There were 102 passengers in all crowded aboard the Mayflower. Nearly half of those original passengers would die during the first harsh winter. Yet the colony survived its first winter and planted the first crops the very next spring. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims and some Wampanoag Indians gathered to celebrate and give thanks for the colony's first successful harvest.

In 2011, my family again has plenty to celebrate and be thankful for, especially as we are able to once again celebrate Thanksgiving at the house of my mother Ruth Boldan.

I grew up with two siblings, 22 double-first cousins and many other cousins on my mother's side of the family, all living within 10 miles of my parent's house in Leader, Minn. This community is just a wide spot on state Highway 64 in central Minnesota.

If you blink, you miss it ... but I can assure you I am related to almost everyone nearby. That was part of the reason, I asked the new girl in town out on a date 35 years ago this weekend. And I am thankful and blessed that Cinda Bartels eventually became and remains my wife.

Our family, my mother's three siblings, their families and others always gathered at my parents' home for Thanksgiving as long as I could remember. My aunts had been cooking for several days and the tables were filled with food and desserts. Some years more than 100 people filled up their plate and then found a place to sit or just a spot on the floor.

As my cousins and I grew older and had families of our own, eventually my mother stopped having Thanksgiving for the extended family. I don't remember exactly when, but things change. Yet cousins always remember Thanksgiving at aunt Ruthie's house.

On Jan. 8, 2010, I got an emergency call from my sister saying our mother's home was engulfed in a house fire. Later, it was determined that a chimney fire was the cause that cold January night.

My mother, then 87, was at home at the time with two of her great-grandchildren. They escaped with basically their lives and not much else.

Fortunately, my mother and my niece and family, who lived with her, were able to move in with my sister and her husband on a ranch nearby. It was tight quarters, but families often pull together when tough times hit.

It wasn't the first time my mother lived through a house fire. When she was a small child, her parents' home was destroyed by a chimney fire. When she was a teenager, her paternal grandmother's house was also destroyed in a fire. And in the early 1950s, her parents house burned again.

With the construction expertise of my first cousin, Mark Bendson, and his partner, Jim Albright, my mother was able to start construction on her new house in July 2010.

By Thanksgiving Saturday last year, our family gathered again for a Thanksgiving gathering at Ruthie's house, which was still under construction. Cousins got back in touch and met new family.

Now 390 years after the very first Thanksgiving, our family will again gather for another Thanksgiving gathering at Ruthie's house. The blessings of family remain one of our many in 2011.

Kelly?Boldan is editor of the West Central Tribune of Willmar.

Kelly Boldan

Kelly Boldan has been the editor of the West Central Tribune of Willmar, since joining the newspaper in October 2001. He has previously worked as the editor at the Bemidji Pioneer, also part of Forum Communications Co., and other daily newspapers, online Web sites, and weekly agriculture newspapers in Wisconsin, Texas and Minnesota. You can follow via Twitter at @KellyBoldanWCT or read about the Tribune's newsroom blog at: or the Tribune's blog at:

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