By Michael K. Brantley

(Note: First published in The Nashville Graphic)

No doubt the last quarter is my favorite time of the year.

The majority of my friends are summer people, a smaller number are spring people and a handful are even winter people. But I’m solidly a fall, fourth quarter, nip in the air, turkey on the table, presents under the tree kind of guy.

I’ve always been that way, but for reasons that have changed in each stage of life.

When I was a child, early fall meant the arrival of the Sears Wish Book. It’s hard for kids in the Internet age to understand how important that glossy, inch-and-a-half book was to children everywhere.

It had all the coolest toys, new and old. It had stuff we never saw in stores, in that time before Wal Mart, when K-Mart and Sears — and sometimes even Montgomery Ward or Radio Shack —were THE stores. Tarrytown Mall and Parkwood had plenty to offer, but not on the scale of the Wish Book.

Norman Rockwell

All of those places are now gone, or almost so.

Anyway, I’d dream a big list, so unrealistic, my imagination turned loose. I can’t complain about how Santa treated me, but those lists had to be trimmed significantly. It was fun.

It was at the beginning of my teen years that I bagged my first squirrel hunting with my big brother on Thanksgiving Day. We’d spent many cool quiet evenings sitting in the woods, quietly waiting, without ever getting a shot off.

I can still remember what true quiet sounded like, the wood burning stove from home lighting in the air.

Later, in my late teen years, I gathered my gaggle of nephews, who ranged in age roughly seven to 15 years younger than me, into a giant football game. I offered game coverage of the Bean Bowl in this space for years.

The meal was always a treat, but those games were something. I played quarterback for both teams, as cousin lined up against cousin. The stories that emerged were legendary, if not altogether an accurate historical record.

One year, someone made a trophy out of scrap wood and tin foil. It was amazing how hard that boys competed for it, and how hard we all laughed at the end of the game.

As a newlywed, I was anxious for my new bride to share in the fun, and the huge, amazing meal my sister put on each year. Her gravy, sweet potato biscuits and dressing are the stuff of legend. That too has been chronicled here many times.

Only the intervention of responsible adults prevented me from drinking that gravy out of a glass one year. I’m not ashamed to say I still dream of it every year in late November.

I remember leaving the big meal later in the day and traveling to the mountains of Virginia to visit with my wife’s family. Those days were hectic, but provided true-life holiday post card images that I remember well.

When we had our studio in Nashville, Thanksgiving was a break amongst the busiest time of the year. We were grateful for the support of our business and made countless friends we treasure today, long after those last orders were complete. Those are worth more than any invoice we ever sent.

A whole new level of thankfulness I couldn’t imagine came along with the birth of our children. Each stage has brought something new, and this year, our oldest will return from college, to the house we’re still trying to adjust to being a little less full.

It’s a new channel marker to navigate for a time.

I also remember those first holidays after losing loved ones. Some after long-lived, full lives that bring on warm smiles. Others, who left way too soon and wish I could draw on their wisdom one more time, or hear them laugh again.

When I was younger, I never thought about stages or how life changes. I never thought Thanksgiving would change, or that the faces would change, or that the times would change, or that time itself could move so fast.

Only collecting a few years adds that.

The first Thanksgiving after my transplant was certainly a big one. I’ve always considered myself grateful, but I learned that year that I had no idea.

People complain sometimes about getting older, or slower, but there are gifts that come with age. One is learning what is truly valuable. Another is wrapping arms around family, and time, and squeezing all you can out of it.

I plan on doing that again next week, and I hope you will do the same.

One thing all of us undeniably have is plenty of blessings to give thanks over.

Happy Thanksgiving.