A Time for Giving Thanks

By Brad McEwen

As another year winds to its inevitable close, folks across South Georgia are once again gearing up for one of the most cherished and beloved of our annual holidays—Thanksgiving.

Celebrating that special day is a highlight for countless families, and the AB&T family is no exception. While anticipation of the holiday can be felt throughout the bank—as we all prepare to give thanks for the bounties of our lives and for the warm embrace of our loved ones—for me that feeling has some extra intensity.

While I’m certainly thankful every year (and hopefully every day) for everything the Lord has provided, I have some added gratitude for the new home I’ve found and for the kind, caring and compassionate people who have welcomed me with open arms and treated me like I’ve been here for years.

In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve chosen to change things up with this week’s Beyond the Bank and put some focus on a few of my new brothers and sisters and explore some of their thoughts and feelings about the holiday, learn about some of their favorite traditions and get a glimpse of what matters most to them as they get ready for another Thanksgiving.

As I embarked on this endeavor of visiting with my new colleagues I was fully prepared to hear all about certain holiday dishes like mom’s special dressing, dad’s smoked turkey and grandma’s lady finger peas, pear relish, and pickled eggs, but what really warmed my heart was the way everyone truly opened up and shared a little about the thing they all have in common.

It was awesome that across the board the first thing that came to mind when discussing the holiday was not turkey done every way imaginable, dressing in all forms and fashions or a rundown of countless other tasty fixings.

No, what is first and foremost on the minds of my new coworkers is spending time with the family, friends and loved ones that make Thanksgiving such a special time.  

That’s certainly the case for Senior Credit Analyst Tina Marbury who, despite associating the holiday with aroma of her father smoking “anything he can smoke on his big smoker,” said rather frankly, that as much as she enjoys the turkeys, chickens, and Boston Butts he spends hours bringing to perfection, it’s the time spent with her loved ones as they gather each year at her family’s farm in Lee County that makes Thanksgiving her favorite holiday.

“Thanksgiving’s not about food for me at all,” Tina told me. “I couldn’t care less about it. It’s about family and it’s about spending time and showing gratitude for what’s really important. And that’s family.”

For as long as she can remember Tina said dozens of relatives, and friends turn up at the farm to enjoy each other’s company and the day’s many traditions, which include much more than food.

“It’s just kind of ‘come to the farm,’” she said of the standing invite. “We have fun. We eat our main meal at lunch and then it’s tradition after lunch we go for a walk around the farm, around the fields. And that’s cool. It’s fall and you see a lot of wildlife—the deer, the quail, the possums, raccoons, squirrels—it’s just always something and it’s gorgeous.

“We laugh, we tell stories, we have contests. Last time we had a pistol shooting contest, which I won by the way. We shoot skeet, we ride whatever’s working that day—golf carts, mules, we’ve got an old school bus that had been turned into a quail hunting wagon. We’ll ride around. We just have fun—good, clean fun.

“Like I said, it’s not about food, it’s about just being together.”

Like Tina, the focus for Senior Operations Specialist and Compliance Administrator Laurie Senn, is also on family as she shared that what she’s most thankful for this year is that her family is healthy after enduring a few scares in recent years.

“I come from a large, close-knit family and over the last few years, we have had some health scares—specifically cancer,” said Laurie. “This time last year, we were not sure what the future held for our family; we were not sure if everyone would be here to celebrate Thanksgiving with us this year. 

“Thankfully, everyone is here and healthy.  And although the chemo treatments are finished, CT scans are clear and everyone can sleep a little bit better at night, we know it could have been a very different outcome for our family and for that I am grateful.”

The health of her family is also top of mind for Cash Management Specialist Whitney Passmore this year, after having endured some difficult news this summer.

“Health is a big one for me, as far as being super grateful for healthy children, because so much can go wrong,” Whitney said. “My mother, recently, was diagnosed back in June with breast cancer and that’s the first close family member that has had it. It had not hit my family and for years I said I couldn’t believe that it had not hit my family because it’s so common, you know, all types of cancer.

“But you know she went through it like a champ. She was brave. If there’s a type of breast cancer to have she had it. She’s done with treatment and we’re super thankful for her prognosis and her attitude and spirit along the way.”

While she didn’t focus specifically on health, Hannah Bass, who works in the bank’s deposit operations department, also focused on family during our chat, saying that Thanksgiving is not just a time to gather together, but for her to reflect on what her family means to her.

Hannah told me that recently she’s been thinking a lot about the important life lessons her parents taught her while growing up in a farming family and how much she cherishes that time in her life.

“What I’m most thankful for is the way my parents raised me and taught me the value of a strong work ethic,” she said. “As a farmer’s daughter, I grew up working on the farm with my daddy and mama. I helped daddy feed my cows, goats, and hogs every day; I picked just about every kind of vegetable and fruit out of the garden, drove trucks and tractors in the watermelon and cantaloupe fields and as I got older, I picked and loaded the melons on the trailers too. I also helped pull cotton wagons to the cotton gin and peanut wagons to the peanut company.  I’ve done a lot more physical labor in my lifetime than most girls my age.

“I didn’t always enjoy working in the hot sun picking heavy watermelons or pulling cotton wagons all the way to Doerun from Warwick, going 30 mph.  It was hot, boring and very tiring. Yes, I complained about it. But now thinking back I cherish those times. 

“Sometimes I reminisce about all the times I had on the farm and wish I could do those things just one more time.  Now that I’m older, I see that it truly made me the person I am today.  I am very humble and always appreciate what I have because I know I work hard and earn it.”   

Looking back at Thanksgivings past and reminiscing about special family times was a popular topic for several of the folks I spoke with, including Pine Avenue Teller Debbie Clyde and Loan Assistant Lori Brooks.

For Lori, even though she now spends the holiday with her husband’s family each year—having lived in South Georgia since the early 90s—Thanksgiving reminds her of growing up in Canada, spending precious time with her parents and brother.

“I love the holiday season,” Lori said. “To me it’s the start of the holidays and just being able to gather with, you know, your friends and family, and just have some quality time with them. It’s important to me.

“It’s just always been important, as a kid and when I got older. We didn’t eat until mid-afternoon but it was spending time you know, goofing around and enjoying each other. It was an important part of my upbringing.”

For Debbie, discussing the holiday not only brought thoughts of being with her family and spending time doing things to help others in the community who didn’t have the blessings they did, it brought back the memory of a special Thanksgiving years ago, while she was living in Jacksonville.

“My husband is retired Navy and back in 1988 he was deployed for 8 months in Iwakuni, Japan,” she explained. “Midway through the deployment he was allowed to come home for the holidays. No one knew he was coming home until the day before. He surprised the whole family by coming home for the holidays for two weeks.  That was one of the biggest and most memorable holidays ever.”

Thoughts of the past were also on Senior Vice President Dana White’s mind as she discussed the holiday and the memories she has of growing up in Brandon, a suburb of Tampa.

“I think of family,” Dana said of the holiday. “I think of growing up with my grandparents and my aunts and my uncles and fighting over the wishbone with my cousin. That was a Thanksgiving tradition that we had—who was going to get the bigger chunk and make their wish come true.

“It was a good time to just be with family and be thankful that they were still there. And as I get older, you know that time is limited, so you’ve got to be thankful for that.”

Dana added that she’s also thankful for where she is now, and is happy that she has been able to raise her children in an environment like the one she enjoyed when she was younger.

“I don’t know if it’s this year or just in general, but I’m thankful that we live in Lee County because it’s a small town like where I grew up,” she said. “So I can allow all my children to grow up in that same type of atmosphere, where you go to football games on Friday night, everybody kind of knows everybody, they’re watching out for your kids.

“(Brandon) was just that small, tight-knit community and that’s what I feel like we’ve got in Lee County. I’m just thankful for that—that my children can experience that. I feel like they can go ride their bikes and be safe. They can be kids. They can ride into the woods, they can hunt, they can just be kids.”

Senior Vice President Gayle Woolard also spoke about the memory of past Thanksgivings and how the holiday has changed for her over the years. She recalled previous holiday traditions, while also sharing the joy she’s found in making new memories with her husband and son.

“Thanksgiving has always been about two important things—family and food—or food and family, depending on whose dressing recipe is being made that particular year,” Gayle said with her trademark humor. “I can remember as a little girl my momma slowly cooking the dear life out of some poor turkey in what seemed like a baking marathon wrapped up in an ovenproof baking bag.  I can smell her dressing even now—sage and other seasonings—made with her love and her secret cornbread recipe.  My granny and granddaddy would join us every year and we enjoyed the food and the nap that followed.

“That tradition changed once I got married. The day was split between family functions—lunch at mine, a later lunch at his—followed by a dinner of leftovers with cousins.  We were totally turkey ’ed out but it was the time with family (that forced family fun) that was so special and created memories that we hold dear today.

“Years have continued to pass, as they do for all of us. We are missing so many of our loved ones that have passed away, some with heartbreak and pain.  We think back on those memories and laugh at the forced family fun and the special times that came with that—the memories of the burnt birds, dry dressing, family debates, naps on the couch and the perusal of the sale papers for the shopping madness the following day.  We cherish the memories and traditions of old.

“But in the mindset of memories, we started to create new ones.  We thought “Let’s do something different. Let’s not be at home and be saddened by old memories of Thanksgivings past.”

“We decided to go to the beach and that is what we have done for several years now—creating new memories, in our happy place, with dear friends that now celebrate with us each year. 

“I still have the smell of my sweet momma’s dressing, but now it includes a hint of sea air. That bird that we would have to choke down with gravy (both at my momma’s house and at Stephen’s grandmother’s house) we now deliciously fry while watching the waves crash on the shore.”

Newer memories were also top of mind for Customer Service Representative Maggie Lewis, who said she’s excited for her daughter to get to join in the holiday traditions she cherishes—which this year also includes spending time with her dad.

“I am thankful this year, just like every other year, to spend time with my family,” Maggie said. “My dad normally has to work on Thanksgiving each year, quail hunting, and this year he is OFF. I am extra thankful to spend more than an hour with him on Thanksgiving.  

“Having only one parent, it’s very important that I make as many memories with him as I can. I am thankful everyday but getting together as a family and him being there just makes it extra special.

“Thanksgiving is just about my most favorite day. Why? Because not only do I get to enjoy time with my family, it is the day we get our Christmas tree! It is a Thanksgiving tradition after we get done with all the family and hunting activities, we go get the perfect tree.

“This year will be extra fun. Hayden will be able to pick out the tree after having a full belly of food. Thanksgiving day starts out with family, eating and hunting, but ends with a Christmas tree, the Grinch, and family. I’m so pumped to see Hayden’s expressions on Thanksgiving. Family time is the best and does the heart good.”

As I was reminded of throughout my interviews, it’s simply impossible for anyone to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday without giving thanks for all of life’s treasures and showing gratitude for recent blessings was a common theme for all of my fellow associates.  

Credit Analyst Thomas Adams said he’s particularly thankful for the major changes that occurred in his life this year—a year in which he feels he’s been incredibly blessed.

“This year was truly special for me,” he said. “Logan and I moved into our first home at the tail end of 2016, and really settled down in the beginning of 2017. We then proceeded to get married.

“I guess the biggest thing to take away from this past year is that I have been really fortunate and blessed.  Fortunate to find a place that Logan and I can call home, and blessed to be able to enjoy it every day. Fortunate to meet the most inspiring girl that I’ve ever known, and blessed to now share my life with her. There are few years prior to 2017 that I can say I have been THIS fortunate and THIS blessed.  And, at the end of the day, I am just thankful to be able to revel about it.”

Teller Zoey Prince is also particularly thankful for her 2017, since, like Thomas, it has been a year marked by important life changes. In addition to officially starting a family, she also, like me, became part of the AB&T family.

“I feel I have a lot to be thankful for this year especially,” she told me. “It’s the first year I celebrate as a married couple with my husband. And this year is also extra special since we are expecting our first child.

“Aside from family I’m very thankful for my job and my amazing coworkers. These last six months have been such a blessing working for AB&T.”

Giving thanks this year for the blessing of her work family is also especially important to Branch Manager Johnnie Benton. After telling me about her family traditions and how close she is with her three siblings, Johnnie shared a little bit about how much her AB&T family means to her as well.

“This year I’m very, very thankful for my AB&T family,” Johnnie said before telling me what she experienced when she was impacted by the January 22 tornado that ravaged southern Dougherty County. “After the storm hit … I looked out the door and saw (Senior Vice President) Perry (Revell) and (Senior Vice President) Matt (Rushton) were walking up and down the road trying to locate me because I was next door, staying with my cousin. They were trying to find where I was at.

“I looked and said, ‘that guy looks like Perry.’ So I went out there and they said, ‘we’re out here trying to locate you and see if you need some help.’ Then Gayle showed up next with breakfast. And then next thing I know, because we were without power for like four days, I had a generator. They started a meal train; they had food and not only were they providing for me. My two sisters, they were without power as well.

“They provided enough food for the whole family. And that was from like that Monday all the way up to that Saturday. (President and CEO) Luke (Flatt) even took out time and came out there twice. And the second time he came he brought (wife) Susan (Flatt) with him.

“It is just so amazing that I work for a company that would take out time to come and take care of their associate like that. That’s very, very important and I’m so thankful for them. I’m so proud that I work for a company like that. That means a lot.

“That was my Thanksgiving. The love that was shown, the food, the other services that were given, I got an early Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that God placed them in my life.”

Human Resources Officer Nita Gaines also spoke of the gratitude she has for her coworkers, saying that she gives thanks for them, and the rest of her family, throughout the year.

“I seldom ask for anything when I pray,” Nita said. “For the most part I say “thank you,” over and over again. I am so grateful.

“In addition to thanking God for each relative by name, I also thank Him for my AB&T family, which includes all the people that I work with and also our clients. It is such a blessing to enjoy a job as much as I enjoy mine, while being surrounded by people who respect, appreciate and truly love one another.”

While co-workers and family were also among the many things Controller Stan Edmonds is thankful for this year, he made it a point to emphasize that it’s important for him to remember who he is thanking for all the blessings in his life.

“I mean who are you thankful to?” Stan asked aloud. “In other words, I’m not thankful to that wall; I’m thankful to Him for all this stuff. I just thank the Lord for everything he provides.”

For Stan a few of the more important things that God provides are our country—and the servicemen and women that defend it—the leaders of his church who strive to do the Lord’s work, and the good health of his family as they age.

“I’m thankful for the ministers at my church and what they do,” he said. “It’s a thankless job sometimes.

“The older I get, and the older my parents get, health (becomes more) important. When you’re 25 and mama and daddy’s 45, you’re going to live forever. Now, when you’re 56 and mama’s 84, health is something I’m really thankful for.

“We just have so much to be thankful for.”

When it comes to capturing the essence of Thanksgiving, Stan certainly hit the nail on the head, and summed up quite succinctly what matters most at Thanksgiving for so many people.

While there’s not always room for more turkey, stuffing, dressing, cranberry sauce or pecan pie after a day enjoying the bounty of our tables, there’s always some extra space in our hearts and minds to remember what matters most in our lives. And there’s hopefully always time for truly giving thanks.

I sincerely hope that everyone in this community has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday filled with love, laughter, hope, and gratitude.

I know mine will be.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen