Thanksgiving started last night for us when we accepted an email invitation to join with “30 or 40” other folks for a 6 p.m. taco meal. We arrived on time but wondering whether these other folks were family, friends, or associates from church or business.
The hosts were Jim and Sandy Galbreath, formerly of Highland Hills, Kentucky, and before that, Lexington. Now, they live in the country with a mailing address of Travelers Rest.
I first met Jim and Sandy shortly after their marriage and transfer from Cumberland College to the University of Kentucky. They were married and I was not. It was 1970.
Woodland Avenue Baptist Church was the venue of our introduction. I was a sophomore at Georgetown College and serving as Youth Director. Our pastor was Walter K. Price, whose funeral I preached five years ago. If the only way he ever blessed me was attracting Jim and Sandy to his preaching, it would be enough (although I never mentioned that in my eulogy).
Two years later, on July 1, 1972, I married Jan Gregg with Rev. Price performing the necessary duties. It all happened the yard of Mount Horeb Presbyterian Church on Iron Works Pike. That is just north and slightly east of Lexington.
Jim and Sandy were not among the 18 people (and perhaps 75 horses) that witnessed our wedding. And it was another ten years before our friendship entered a new phase. Jim was a traveling salesman with Pittsburgh on his route; I was a pastor with a small congregation on the north side of that same city. The years must have been ’82 to ’85 when Jim came driving through, trying to make ends meet. He found a welcome in our home on Dell Lane and an overnight bed normally occupied by one of our three children.
Jim brought that up again last night, as he has scores of times over the years. He was explaining to his 30-40 guests—mostly family—why we were included in their Thanksgiving hospitality.
And why we were included is this: for eleven months I have been living in a rental house he and Sandy own. In Travelers Rest, South Carolina.
I never dreamed of living in South Carolina, but when family issues pushed me to find a place halfway between our home on St. Simons Island and Lexington, I settled on Hendersonville, North Carolina. Then my landlord there sold the condo and I scrambled. Until Jim sent an invitation to occupy for a time their recently-purchased house on Brandt Drive. In Travelers Rest.
Which is how Jan and I were included in the family gathering in their ranch-style home just a few miles from my rental house. We were glad to accept and were delighted to meet so many people in one family.
“My extended family never gathers like this,” I said to Jan, thinking about my three siblings and their children. “Neither does mine,” she responded.
Come back tomorrow night, more than one person said to me as I served myself yet another plateful of Mexican-style food. There will be more people, it was explained, and more food. It will be the real Thanksgiving meal. This is just the prelude.
It may have been prelude to a holiday meal, but it was also a kind of postlude to a 52-year friendship. Jim and Sandy are our oldest friends: that is, the couple with whom we have been friends over the longest stretch of time.
They raised three kids, now living in Kentucky, Florida, and South Carolina: two girls and a boy. We raised three kids, now living in Kentucky, Georgia, and South Carolina: two boys and a girl. We both have a Kate!
You never know what happenstance brings people together. Some encounters lead to marriage, others to partnership in business or leisure. Ours led to friendship, punctuated by real assistance in times of need.
It is what I give thanks for today, on this best of all holidays. It is the festival of food and friends, laughter and leisure, and for us a bit of travel. We declined the invitation to return to the ranch and instead loaded our car and headed to Atlanta to celebrate with our Kate.
But Kate is just over 40 years old, and she will never catch up with the years we have spent tracking Jim and Sandy, exchanging love and admiration across the decades.
It is a good thing to have such friends. Today I give thanks. For Jim and Sandy.