Returning Thanks: An Annoying Duty to a Child, A Profound Memory for the Adult

Grandpa Hershey ladling soup or drink at a family gathering, about 1971. Photographer: Stuart W. Showalter

My father’s father, David Paul Hershey, figures large in my memory of growing up. That’s primarily because the relationship between him and my father was complicated. Daddy bought the family farm (called The Home Place in my memoir Blush). Enough said. For now.

But despite the differences of opinion between the two patriarchs who ruled my life, Daddy and Grandpa, there were many moments of fun family communion also. One of Grandpa’s habits when his brood of six children and all their own offspring gathered in one place was to keep us all at the table until the last person had eaten dessert. Oh how slowly that time went for a child.

“Don’t even think of sliding off your chair until Grandpa says so! No, you can’t be excused.”

Eventually, Grandpa would gaze upon all of us and decide it was time for the last part of the meal.

“Now we will return thanks,” he would say.

Returning thanks meant that not only did we ask for a blessing on our food, family, church, and world, at the beginning of the meal. We paused again to say thanks at the end of the meal for what we had eaten and all that we were to each other.

The prayer was silent. Grandpa always whispered something to God. I always wondered what kind of secrets the two of them had with each other.

When I was asked to lead a group of program officers at the Fetzer Institute, I told them Grandpa’s practice, and we instituted it as our own, naming things we were thankful for at the end of every meeting.

When I came to the very end of my book, I had to follow Grandpa’s example by returning thanks.

It took four pages to thank everyone I could think of. I didn’t want to leave anyone out, but I know even four pages isn’t enough.

Below find the last page of the acknowledgments. I hope Grandpa, who died in 1985, would be pleased to see his influence in these words:


For my New Beginning today: I am going to return thanks after every meal and thank God for Grandpa Hershey, the prayer whisperer, always remembered by our family for insisting that we Return Thanks.

Leaves of Grass! 93 Days to Launch of Blush

What’s your New Beginning? Insert it here.

A little update. I’ve blogged every day for a week. And I’ve received 100 entries in the Challenge. Some people are logging a New Beginning every day. Good for you!





Shirley Showalter


  1. Marian Beaman on June 12, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    I can say ditto and amen to your memories of “giving thanks” and “returning thanks,” particularly on the Metzler side of the family. I have to wonder whether it was a tradition brought over from the Old Country or whether it was extreme gratitude for escaping persecution and then experiencing prosperity in the New World. Perhaps something else entirely.

    On the Longenecker side, our ritual was expressed in a different way, singing the Doxology before meals. It continues to this day, especially for major holidays or when I bring a special PA Dutch dish like pig stomach or ham loaf back from Lancaster County, which I will be doing shortly.

    I read your acknowledgements page with awe: You are so fortunate to have such willing and able family support. Why you have an arsenal of expertise at your disposal.

    My good fortune is having friends like you in the blogosphere who are role models and encouragers, a WordPress Manual to guide me, and an artist-husband who drops everything to revise line drawings from years ago. Yes, we have a “goodly heritage.”

  2. shirleyhs on June 12, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    I love hearing about the traditions in other families — all ways of teaching the importance of gratitude.

    Thank you for noting the awe-some gifts of my family. I am reminded often of their amazing support. They help me learn, which always makes me happy. I am Returning Thanks for them again as I write these words.

    I’m so glad we met online to help and support each other also. Many blessings.

  3. Richard Gilbert on June 20, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Shirley, I think giving thanks is so important—my own prayer is a gratitude prayer, primarily. If I am not praying at least once a day, then it means I am on auto pilot, not at my best. I know that prayers and adult piety are hard on some or even on most children, but they plant a seed, as they have with you.

    • shirleyhs on June 20, 2013 at 7:20 pm

      So true, Richard. At its very best root, memoir is a way of giving thanks. To have learned to appreciate the gift of life itself as a child is a gift that becomes more precious over time. So glad you have it too.

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