Besides the coveted phrase “I love you,” “thank you” probably earns the trophy of everyday phrases that people enjoy hearing most. Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day would make a perfect marriage between two holidays.

Thank you.

Besides the coveted phrase “I love you,” “thank you” probably earns the trophy of everyday phrases that people enjoy hearing most. Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day would make a perfect marriage between two holidays.

This week, I put out a call to a number of city of Independence department directors, staff and council members about what they are thankful for. At-Large Council Member Jim Schultz replied: “I am thankful to live in a community with a heart for the needs of others and the desire to meet the needs of those struggling to get through the day.”

He is thankful for Nicole Collier and for all of the members of the Hungry and Homeless Coalition who work with Independence service providers in assisting families on a daily basis throughout the year “to have food, shelter and hope,” Schultz said. “You are all truly a blessing to this community.”  

Even with all of our differences in life through gender, education, employment, age and socioeconomic status, people are really more similar than we often realize.

Take, for example, Dick Champion and myself. Champion, the city’s Water Pollution Control director, is a man with more knowledge on science and government than I’ll ever learn. He has an established professional career and decades of experience. Conversely, I am a young woman, still figuring out this adulthood thing and which boxes I should check and numbers I should fill in on W-4 forms (more on that later). I’m a month shy of 25 years, still just a cub reporter who is often asked on assignments which high school I attend.

But when Champion replied with his message of thanks, he wrote: “I am thankful for my family, good health and for my calling to serve the public and the environment. I also give thanks for the great team of (Water Pollution Control) professionals for their commitment to public service.” Those first three items of thanks are identical to my own: I am thankful for my family, for my calling of writing and for my good health and physical strength.

It shouldn’t take three guesses to determine which of the three I value most: Family. My upbringing was a traditional one, with a mother, a father and a younger sister. My parents were always there for me, though often in different ways. Age and a two-hour drive have made me appreciate these three people in ways that I wish I would have sooner.  

My mother, ever the talented and underrated cook and seamstress, made my sister and I each a dress for Christmas, Easter and often our birthdays. She always baked gobs of treats for our school holiday parties, including her famous frosted sugar cookies that she even made for the staff of my college newspaper. Remember those W-4 forms? My mother still files my taxes, though one of these days, Mom, I’ll have to learn it on my own.

My father said “I love you” more quietly. He helped me with my algebra homework in eighth grade, teaching me what the heck “rise over run” meant. To my knowledge, he only missed one high school cross country and track meet between 2000 through 2004. (It was an Abilene track meet, Dad, and I forgive you.) He even took off a day of work and drove three hours to a big invitational in Wichita, Kan., and then waited several hours just to watch me run a total of 15 minutes.

And then there is my sister, Audra. At 23, she is developing into a beautiful young woman. She is married, has bought a house and lives a stone’s throw from the house we grew up in that Mom and Dad still call home. Once shy around others, she is now an assistant manager at The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kan., our beautiful hometown. Audra has interacted with customers and tourists from across the world. She never earned less than an A on an exam or paper in college, and after graduating summa cum laude in business administration, Audra is one of the more intelligent and dedicated people I’ll ever know.  

I’m most thankful that she is still here, getting stronger every day after a serious health scare earlier this year. We get to see each other once a month, if that, and it’s always the highlight of the week. My eyes blink back tears as I hug her tiny 110-pound frame goodbye, hoping either she or I make the two-hour drive along Interstate 70 back to our respective homes safely.

Sometimes, I ask myself, “Why did I ever move away if I am so thankful for them?” but then I remember my calling as a journalist and sociologist. And absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? That doesn’t stop me from calling home every other day, even if it’s just to reassure my parents that I’m alive and well.

“Hey Dad, have you heard of Bill Gaither? Well, he’s a pretty big deal, and I get to interview him on Monday afternoon.”

“Dad! You’ll never guess who is coming to the Independence Events Center in January: B.B. King! Are you a B.B. fan?”

“Did you read my column from last week? Well, it’s about this program called Girls on the Run, and I talked about how running changed my life as a teenager. I’ll e-mail you the link.”

I don’t think they know this, but I’m living out another family member’s dream here in Independence. Two summers ago, just as I prepared my move to the Kansas City area, I was in my grandmother’s basement in Wamego. Though my grandfather died 10 years ago, his desk is almost the same as it was the day he died. A question-of-the-day desk calendar remains from 1997 or 1998. I flipped through it, though not every question had an answer.

But on one day, the question asked, “What did you want to be as a child?” or something to that effect. My grandfather, a lifelong builder, just as my father is now, wrote in cursive with a pencil “journalism.”

I guess that is why I’m here and they are there – at least for now.  

We’re two hours away today, on Thanksgiving, but I’m still thinking of Mom, Dad and Audra.  

Thank you. I love you.