Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Giving Thanks in a Thankless Time

Let us be grateful 
for the people who make us happy. 
They are the charming gardeners 
who make our souls blossom.
~Marcel Proust

Even in the year 2020, Thanksgiving is a holiday to be celebrated. The last 12 months have been a year we would like to forget. The Pandemic, the economic crisis, social unrest, political chaos, social distancing, sheltering in place; all of that has made 2020 a year we will never forget, as much as we might like to. To put things in historical perspective, consider this: Thanksgiving was originally established during a crisis that was even worse than what we have been living though this year. President Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued in 1863, during the Civil War. That conflict brought a shocking amount of death and heartbreak and economic devastation to Americans everywhere.

Thanksgiving 2020 is a time to remember and be grateful for many things. I am especially thankful for family ancestors who went before us and paved the way for us. They were men and women who endured great adversity, who taught their children and grandchildren how to open their hearts to a benevolent God and be people of genuine gratitude. I am particularly thankful for ancestors and family members whose lives seemed to emanate gratitude even though life was difficult for them. 

No pictures exist of William Elmer Shepard,
but this image shows his son William Shepard
with his wife Bura Davis, in the 1960s in San Diego

William Elmer Shepard (1860-1915). In particular I am especially grateful for my Great Grandfather William Elmer Shepard, a man I never met, but whose life is worth considering. He is a person of history to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for several reasons. He is responsible for the spelling of our family name "Shepard." William Elmer's father died in the Civil War leaving behind a wife and two young boys. The youngest boy, William Elmer, he never even met because of the father-soldier's untimely death. As a teenager William Elmer had such a hard time in his step-father's home that he ran away and was never reunited with his Indiana family again. His father-soldier's last name was spelled several different ways in various historical records: Sheppard, Shepherd, Shepheard, Shephard and Shepard. Interestingly, William Elmer's brother, Frank, chose the spelling "Shepherd" and used it for the rest of his life which was spent as a postman in northern Indiana. Great Grandfather William Elmer (the runaway) chose the spelling "Shepard" and used it consistently for the rest of his life, in Illinois where he found a wife and lived 25 years, and then in Oklahoma, where he lived for the last 10 years of his life.

We also owe a debt of thanks to the runaway/vagabond William Elmer Shepard for being the only link to our Shepard ancestors before the Civil War. Were it not for William Elmer, we would know nothing about our Indiana Shepard kinfolk, or our impressive ancestors, the Sheppards of Kirkwood, Ohio, or the three generations of John Shepards of the 18th century which show our Shepard roots in Barbados and in England before that. 

My cousin Hershell Gower 
in 2003
We are also indebted to William Elmer Shepard (and his Illinois wife Elvira Owens!) for bringing into the world Granddad William Shepard (1888-1976), pictured above, who would become the husband of Bura Davis, and then the Grandfather of me and 11 other grandchildren. This Thanksgiving I am filled with gratitude as I remember the life of William Elmer Shepard.

Hershell Gower (1943-2020). On this Thanksgiving I am also grateful for my cousin Hershell Gower who passed away this past summer at the age of 77. I am thankful for his life, for his service to his country, for his family, and for all the memories of good family times in years past.

I cannot write about Thanksgiving without mentioning these others for whom I am very grateful this holiday: 

  • my grandmother Bura Davis Shepard (1896-1986), who was born in the month of November 124 years ago; a small woman who made a big impact on her family. 
  • my two aunts Thelma Shepard Boyd (of Athena, Kansas) and Vicki Gower Johnston (of Chandler, Arizona) who are family gems as senior members of our Shepard and Gower families. 
  • I am also very grateful for the senior most member of our extended family, my mother Maida Gower Shepard who is now 96 and going strong in Anacortes, Washington; 
  • and I am thankful for the wonderful, sacrificial work of Mom's dedicated caregivers, Barbara, Gary and Cindy Shepard.

In the words of Marcel Proust, these are all "charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." They are special people who I celebrate this week in a spirit of gratitude for the place of each of them in our family. May you have a safe and happy time with your family this Thanksgiving!
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)