To the Little Town That Fixed What Would Have Been Our Worst Thanksgiving Ever

My husband and I weren’t looking forward to our first Thanksgiving as parents of a baby with special needs. The little town on the prairie where we lived was 750 miles from the University of Nebraska hospital in Omaha, where our son had already had two surgeries — the first when he was less than 24 hours old. The surgeon insisted on scheduling a follow-up appointment before releasing our son after the second surgery. My husband and I couldn’t afford to miss any more work, so the appointment was set for the day after Thanksgiving. We couldn’t afford to travel by plane because of mounting medical bills.

That meant a 15-hour car trip.
On Thanksgiving.
With a 5-month-old who ate through a feeding tube.
Who was allergic to every form of nourishment except breast milk.
Which I had to pump.
During a 15-hour car trip.
On Thanksgiving.
With a 5-month-old who ate through a feeding tube.

Our first Thanksgiving with our baby boy was shaping up to be the worst holiday ever.

Until some friends said they were planning a benefit for us. These friends were also parents of the students in my classroom, the other teachers in the small school. My husband’s co-workers and our son’s babysitter. In small towns, everybody wears lots of hats. (Mostly cowboy hats in this particular town only two miles from Montana and 20 miles from North Dakota. Mostly dusty hats in the drought-stricken years of the early 1980’s when every road coming into the town was gravel. Even the state highway.)

We soon learned our friends and co-workers wore fundraising hats with style.

The night of the gala event, the Community Center was filled to the gills. People came from throughout the county and from over the river in Montana. My husband carried our boy from person to person, introducing him to one and all. Except for the people who had to introduce themselves because we didn’t know them. Strangers who read about our baby in the paper swelled the crowd. By the end of the night, dear friends and kind strangers had raised more than $1,500 for our family.

In a town of 92 people.
In a county with a population of 1500.
During a drought year when ranchers were in danger of losing their land.
In a place where many people live far below the poverty level.
In 1982.
That’s almost $4000 in today’s dollars.

Enough money for plane tickets so we could spend Thanksgiving with my parents before our son’s appointment. Enough money to pay travel expenses to and from doctor’s appointments for months to come. But more importantly, enough kindness and compassion to carry us into our son’s unknown future. Enough assurance of God’s presence on that wide open, sparsely-populated prairie to sooth our broken and battered spirits.

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Our family moved from that little town in the prairie in 1985 to be closer to doctors and hospitals. But we carry the kindness and generosity of its people with us to this day. Each Thanksgiving, I thank God for our years on the short grass prairie, and for what He taught us about the power of sharing a cup of cold water with thirsty children. So this Thanksgiving, I want to honor that little town on the prairie by expressing my gratitude once again.

Thank you Camp Crook, South Dakota, from the bottom of my heart. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

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