A Thanksgiving Prayer
Did I ever tell you about Brother Foster's Thanksgiving prayer?
Long ago, out in that West Cross Timbers country beyond Fort Worth, Brother
Foster was famous for prayers that showed scope and style. I once heard him send
up a thanksgiving prayer that was major league in all respects, and he did it
standing in the kitchen door on Gramdma Hale's farm.
This old fellow was not really a preacher. But in rural regions at the time I am talking about, purebred and registered preachers were scarce and people made do with the nearest they had to the real article.
Brother Foster taught Sunday School, and did funerals, and went around comforting the sick and sorrowful, and generally made a satisfactory substitute for a preacher. My father used to say you could put a black hat on Brother Foster and hand him a Bible and a collection plate and he could pass for a preacher.
His specialty was prayers on special occasions, like at Fourth of July Picnics, ice cream suppers, Christmas gatherings, and other holiday affairs. It must have been in '31 or '32 that Brother Foster came to Gramdma Hale's farm for Thanksgiving dinner. All the women, especially, counted it a social victory to have Brother Foster for Thanksgiving. I don't know how we got him, as he was spread pretty thin over that region.
The meal was the occasion for the prayer, so it was delivered as the blessing. Or, asking the blessing, as we said, or returning thanks.
When the formal invitation was issued - "Brother Foster, will you return thanks for us?" - that luminary backed away from the table and took up a position in the doorway that led into Grandma's kitchen. Evidently he felt a need to be isolated from the general bunch.
He was a big, heavy-shouldered fellow with deep-set eyes and wavy white hair and a mighty voice. My father used to say that they ruined a first-rate preacher when they put Bro. Foster to following a mule across a cotton patch.
He waited for silence before he began. If silence took a full minute to arrive, still he waited. We were supposed to keep our heads bowed and our eyes closed but by that time I had perfected a system of looking around at things through eyes that seemed closed but really weren't.
Bro. Foster stood with his legs slightly apart and his hands behind him and his chin elevated and his eyes closed. Just when you thought he would begin, a foot would scuff or a throat would clear and he would hold off a while longer. Even a calf, bawling for its mama out at the barn, would delay his beginning.
He started out quietly, and built volume as he went along. He began with the food and the blessed hands that prepared it. He called Grandma by name, and I learned later that this was a high blessing, to get your name sent up in a prayer by Brother Foster, and on Thanksgiving Day, at that.
From the women he went to the men who tilled the land and brought forth its fruits. He went on to thank the Lord for the beasts that pulled the plows, and those that sacrificed their lives to give us sustenance.
Then he took up the children, and asked the Lord to bless their little hearts and keep them safe.
He went into the field of medicine and thanked the Lord for protecting those of us who hadn't caught terrible diseases or suffered crippling injuries. He got into agriculture and mentioned the good corn crop, and the cotton crop which was fair. Went then to meteorology and pointed out to God that the rains came a little too late in the season but were appreciated anyhow. He called the names of people who had died during the year, people we knew, and he gave thanks for their lives. He gave thanks for breezes that turned windmills, for pretty music, for the love of friends and kinfolks, for the very roof over our heads, for feather mattresses on cold winter nights.
This litany went on until the dressing was cold and I thought it was more a sermon than a prayer. Not until a good many years later did I understand why Bro. Foster's long prayers were sought and appreciated:
Life in that country was hard, and those folks needed somebody to remind them that they had a lot to be thankful for.
Houston Chronicle, Section A, Page #43, Thursday, Nov. 24,
1988, "A Thanksgiving Prayer," by Leon Hale.
From Expository Files 9.11; November 2002