I recently got some pictures of my Aunt’s 86th birthday party. Although I haven’t been able to visit her in many years she looked as happy and beautiful as ever. Her eyes sparkled with the same youth and vitality that I remembered from our Summer visits to her home some 35 years ago.

Gazing at her picture took me back in an instant to those wonderful times once again.  Her home was an eight hour drive from ours over mountainous roads so we could only visit during the Summer. When we arrived, though, we were always greeted with hugs, tears, laughter and love. The highlight of our visits was always the early Thanksgiving dinner that we shared.

The dining room table would groan under the platters of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, rolls, stuffing, pumpkin pies, and ice cream. After saying grace we would all feast until we  couldn’t feast anymore. My late Uncle Rich would always smile after dinner and joke that we had to visit more often because this was the only time that Aunt Charlotte ever fed him well.

In the evening I would go to bed with a full stomach and a happy heart. Sweet laughter would drift up from the front porch and into my open bedroom window while Mom, Dad, Uncle Rich, and Aunt Charlotte talked long into the night. A peaceful feeling would fill my spirit as the sounds of joy and thankfulness floated up from below to be my loving lullaby.

Those beautiful childhood memories have stayed with me to this day. They were by far the greatest gifts my Aunt Charlotte could have ever given me. They helped shape my soul and opened my heart to the love of God that was all around me. They helped me to see the kind of life that I wanted to live and share with others. I will be forever thankful to her for her wonderful lessons on living with laughter and love. I will be forever grateful to her for showing me how to go through each day with both joy and thanksgiving.

Joe Mazzella lives in the mountains of West Virginia, USA with his wife and three children. He writes articles for local newspapers but derives happiness from the joy and love he shares with others.. Joe can be reached at;joemazzella@frontier.com