(Note: The following was published as Mr. Small's weekly newspaper column in the Nov. 26, 2020, edition of the Johnston County Sentinel in Tishomingo, Oklahoma.)

It occurred to me just now, as I sat down at my computer keyboard and began facing the task of writing a holiday-themed column for our Thanksgiving issue, that if there had ever been a year where I felt less like giving thanks it would have to be this year.

And yet, no sooner had that thought crossed my mind when I heard the voice of my dear mother, reminding me of one of those great paradoxes of life that she and Dad used to teach me about when I was but a wee nipper: “Often it is when you feel like being thankful the least that you should be thankful the most.”

It’s a lesson that has wound its way back into my consciousness more than once over the years. But it has not been until this year - a little over half a century after Mom first shared it, as best as I can recall - that the truth of that paradox has finally, fully struck home for me.

There can be no denying that 2020 has been a year many of us will prefer to forget as time continues along. Of course, the more we say we want to forget about it the more we are likely to always remember it. 

I have this mental image of some child helping his grandparents trim their Christmas tree some 20 or 30 years hence and pulling from the big Tupperware container one of those “2020 Dumpster Fire” Christmas ornaments that are all the rage on the Internet at the moment. “Grandma, what kind of a holiday decoration is this?”

I can’t help but wonder what Grandma will say in response...

I have little doubt whatsoever that, when writing their textbooks for classes that legislators in certain states will probably argue should not be taught in the first place, future historians will look back upon 2020 and call it Annus horribilis - the Latin phrase meaning “horrible year.”

The name is certainly fitting. Between a global pandemic and the impact it has taken upon us; a national election that has resulted in an incumbent refusing to accept defeat, thus further diminishing our standing elsewhere in the world; and the fact that TV’s Supergirl will soon be coming to an end while Big Brother will likely go on forever... well, there just hasn’t been much for some of us to celebrate this year.

For me personally it will be remembered as the year when far too many people who made some sort of positive impact upon my life, and made this world a better place simply by being here, left us. 

Family members like my great-aunt, Pearl Roberts, and my daughter-in-law’s grandmother, Esther Tabor.

Dear friends like Scott Turk, Lisa Croteau, Lester Powell, Wayne Ratliff and so many others.

Celebrity heroes like John Prine, Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas and John Lewis.

And one very special childhood hero who would eventually become a cherished personal friend: Bob Shane, a founding member of the Kingston Trio. 

For all of us who have lost loved ones or figures of personal importance - whether the loss be COVID related or not - it will be hard to look back at 2020 and not think of these losses.

Forgive me if I come across as overly maudlin. For years the Thanksgiving holiday has been especially hard for me because of its association with personal loss.

Several beloved family members - including my maternal grandfather and my father-in-law, both World War II veterans and two of the finest men I have ever known - all died around this time of year.

During my senior year in college, three of my classmates died in a tragic bus accident while en route to a choir perfromance in a neighboring state.

My dear friend and former publisher, Ray Lokey, lost his battle against lung cancer three years ago this month.

Given all that, perhaps, one might understand why it sometimes becomes difficult for me to look at the approach of the Thanksgiving season and not feel a certain sense of dread even during a good year. 

This year being what it has been, the fear has been that the dread might this time prove unbearable.

And yet... 

There it is again. The voice of my mother, reminding me yet again: “Often it is when you feel like being thankful the least that you should be thankful the most.” 

And if I squint really hard I can almost see Ray standing there next to her, wearing that familiar cheesy grin of his and saying, “Listen to your mother, Small, she’s never steered you wrong before.”

He’s right, of course. They both are. And now that I think about it, it’s just like the two of them to double-team me this way...

So while our readers take a moment to reflect on those things that they should be thankful for each and every day of their lives, allow me this opportunity to do the same. Publicly, and with heartfelt conviction.

I am thankful that I was brought up by parents who were both wise and kind, strict but forgiving, cautious yet adventurous, and above all else always supportive and loving.

I am thankful for the day that pretty teenaged girl walked up to me in the church foyer before Sunday evening service in the spring of 1978, took from my hand the yo-yo I was trying (without much success) to play with and proceeeded to show me how it was done. Four-plus decades later we’re still together, she’s still showing me how it’s done, and I love her more every day.

I am thankful for the two sons Melissa and I brought into this world, for the happy and mischevious lads Josh and Will were growing up and the fine young men they’ve become.

I am thankful for William’s wife Charlesana and her family, for the additional love they have brought into Will’s life and for the positive impact they’ve had upon my own.

I am thankkful for our beautiful granddaughter Zoey, whose smile can brighten a room faster and better than any LED light.

I am thankful for my nieces Stephanie, Jessica and Jerrilyn, and my nephew Mark, whom I couldn’t love any more if they were my own children.

I am thankful for those whom I consider my “extended family,” those brothers and sisters in spirit who have proven time and again that kinship is more than simply a matter of blood ties. I dare not even attempt to list them by name, for fear of accidentally omitting someone; I can only hope that they know who they are, and that they know how much I value their companionship on this journey we call Life.

I am thankful to be able to have worked as an adult in the career I had hoped to pursue when I was a child. Sometimes it seems a thankless endeavor - and never more so than this year at times - and yet there is nothing else I would rather be doing with my life. Which may be a cause for concern about my sanity, but that’s a discussion best left for another time.

I am thankful to our publishers, Tom and Mary Lokey, for doing their part to ensure that there is still a locally produced newspaper in Johnston County - and you should be, too.

And of course I am thankful to you, our readers. You’re the reason we are here. Some of you out there might even be thankful in turn that we are.

At least I’d like to think so...

(Copyright © 2020 by John A. Small)