As the holiday turkey is served this Thanksgiving, for what do you find yourself thankful? It is a question worth pondering, especially for three American families who remind us that blessings come in all forms: the smile of a child’s face, safety from adversity, and sometimes, the touch of a miracle.
‘They Bring Us So Much Joy’ —Art and Nancy Southard
When painting contractor Art Southard arrives home each day, three pairs of small hands eagerly reach for him—the hands of Hayley, 5, Mitchell, 5, and Sophia, 1.
The Southard brood.
“I’m gang-tackled at the door,” Art says with a laugh.
He can’t imagine life any other way. Neither can his wife, Nancy, a school librarian, who is awarded an equally robust reception when she picks up the children from school and day care.
Beginning with Hayley about 5 1/2 years ago, the Southards—he’s 56, she’s 47—grew their family through international adoptions. The Cleveland, Mo., couple wanted biological children, but after three years of unsuccessful fertility treatments, they decided to look overseas.
Hayley and Mitchell were born in China. Their younger sister is from Vietnam.
“We knew somewhere there was a child for us, but there were three,” says Nancy. “They bring us so much joy. It’s so much fun.”
The Southard girls were adopted as infants, while Mitchell was in an orphanage before coming to America.
“With Mitchell, especially, everything was new to him. He was so excited, so much wonder in his face. During his first Christmas, the lights on the tree were amazing to him,” Nancy remembers.
This will be Sophia’s first Thanksgiving in her new home, several time zones away from the country of her birth; a world apart from a future that likely would have been bleak. The same was true for Hayley and Mitchell.
“The adoption agency told us that our two from China would have likely died. They just couldn’t give them the care they needed. It’s so sad,” adds Art, who notes Mitchell has a cleft palate and a heart murmur, which are being treated by local doctors.
As for Sophia, the Southards received a letter from her Vietnamese birth mother, thanking them for providing a home for her child in America.
Art and Nancy believe they should be the ones to offer thanks.
“People just don’t know what adoption has done for me. It makes you awful humble. I can’t wait to get home every day,” he says.
At restaurants and at church, people, sometimes strangers, approach the couple with their three small ones in tow. They look at the small, wide-eyed faces and tell the smiling couple that God will bless them for adopting.
Art says he just smiles and replies, “He already has.”
The Anglins: Tornado Survivors
The rogue storm that spawned a killer tornado crept up on Chris and Cindy Anglin and their four children like the proverbial thief in the night.
“The TV had shown some warnings in north Florida and east Alabama before we went to bed, but the weather radio didn’t alert us. We had no warning,” remembers Cindy of the midnight storm on Valentine’s Day this year.
By the time they were awakened by the crack of an exploding transformer on a utility pole, the tornado was bearing down on their rural home in Camilla, in southwest Georgia. Chris, a banker, and Cindy, a third-grade teacher, began gathering their family. Chris shook the boys, Bryant, 11, and Braden, 7, awake and then ran to the opposite end of the house.
“I’m going to get the girls,” he shouted, rushing to awaken his daughters, Brandi, 17, and Brooke, 13.
“I was yelling for the boys to follow me to the bathroom,” Cindy recalls.
But after she stumbled into the bathroom in the darkness, wind pressure slammed the door shut and she could not open it. She tried frantically, but unsuccessfully, to reach her boys, who were just outside the door in the hallway. Chris, meanwhile, was with the girls at the other end of the house in a hallway.
At that moment the tornado, with winds in excess of 180 mph, sliced a raw gash through the center of the house.
“After it was over, I was expecting to be the only one living,” she says, shuddering.
Miraculously, all survived. The boys had crouched on the floor outside the bathroom, while Chris stayed with the girls in their bedroom. Even the family’s puppy, a miniature dachshund named Baby, survived.
Their home of 13 years, however, was in shambles.
“We stood there, water was just streaming in, and we realized that we had no roof and a wall was caved in,” Cindy recalls.
Construction of their new home is under way, but this Thanksgiving finds the Anglins feeling very fortunate. They are alive, together. To other families in their area, the same funnel cloud that destroyed their home also brought 22 deaths.
“I believe Thanksgiving will always have special meaning to us—because of what could have happened,” Cindy says.
“Valentine’s Day, too.”
John Gilpatrick Walks Tall Again
Elaine Jones describes her youngest son, John Gilpatrick, as a “child of surprises.”
Of that, she and her husband, Allan, are particularly thankful this year, for John has surprised his mother and stepfather, his doctors, and himself by walking again, nearly five years after he was paralyzed in a college hockey game.
“I gave up that he would ever walk again, but he is,” she says. “I can’t tell you how happy we are.”
How different a feeling from the emotions of the night of Jan. 25, 1996.
Elaine answered the door of her Hanover, Mass., home to find a police officer. John had been injured, he said. She didn’t believe the officer because she had just left the hockey arena after watching him play. When she arrived at the hospital, the emergency room was filled with her son’s teammates and coaches.
Shortly after she left the arena, they told her, John had taken a hit, propelling him head first into the crossbar of the goal.
Her youngest son was paralyzed.
“I had no movement from my waist up to my neck,” John, 27, recalls. “They told me that I was a quadriplegic.”
Doctors predicted he probably wouldn’t walk again, but John aimed to prove them wrong. He worked hard at rehabilitation, for a reason.
“Whatever you don’t get back within the first two years, you have probably lost forever. That’s what the doctors told me. So I worked, but they were bleak times because I got no return,” he says.
Two years passed, then three. He resumed his life, moving into an attached apartment behind his parents’ home. He returned to Suffolk University and graduated with a degree in criminal justice and was an assistant coach for the university’s hockey team.
Yet, he remained in a wheelchair.
Last June, however, feeling returned to his right arm and trunk.
“I could always move my legs some, but because I couldn’t control my lower body, my center of gravity was out of whack,” he says.
Each day he gained more and more control. Finally, results. By late summer, as he prepared to enter Suffolk’s law school, John was walking 150 feet at a time.
“The docs, they don’t know what to think. It’s not every day they see someone get up out of their wheelchair,” he says.
When the turkey is served at the family’s Thanksgiving feast, John hopes to walk, not roll, to the table.
“His life was changed in one split second, and now it has changed again,” his mother marvels.
He’s still “a child of surprises.”