Thanksgiving After Houseparent

Our Thanksgiving Table

Nothing evokes feelings of home and family quite like Thanksgiving. In our experience, “home” is less about a physical place and more about being with your tribe. Likewise, “family” is less about shared DNA but more about bonds of the heart. Our Thanksgiving table reflects these values, where an ever-varied cast of relatives, Cookson Hills family, and dear friends gather each year. Hands down, it’s my favorite holiday!


During our Thanksgiving gathering, you can find plates from Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, Indiana, Minnesota, Colorado, and more lining the driveway of our home in Missouri.

My husband, Roger, and I ministered at Cookson Hills from 1978-1992, primarily as houseparents. A lot of kids were grafted into our hearts during those years, and now they have families of their own. Over the years, Thanksgiving developed into an annual family reunion with our Cookson tribe. We are scattered across the country, but everyone finds a way to come home for Thanksgiving.

As our numbers grew, we added a leaf to the table and set up a card table for the kids. Eventually, we outgrew the house and had to move the party to the shop beside our house. Before he retired, Roger ran his auto body business out of the shop, and now it houses a collection of old cars (most of which do not run under their own power ☺)


A week before Thanksgiving, Roger clears some space in the center of the shop, cordons off the work areas with orange plastic fencing, sweeps the floor, sets up tables and makes the place semi-presentable. A slight waft of motor oil lingers…we think of it as ambiance.

Even the grandkids help with preparations by writing each namecard.

Our youngest daughter, Leah, comes home from Seattle in time to string a bazillion lights from the ceiling. I create a music playlist every year and buy Christmas pajamas for all the kiddos. The grandkids gather acorns to decorate the tables, and they make name cards for each guest. Our girls had the good sense to marry men who cook, and they each have specific jobs in the kitchen. The ladies make the rolls and pies on Wednesday. What happy chaos in the kitchen!

A Place at the Table

Our serving line!

When the day arrives, everyone helps with final preparations while the kids occupy themselves at a craft table. We found that the hydraulic car lift in the center of the shop makes a perfect serving table for the main course, while appetizers, pies and drinks are served from Roger’s 1969 VW pickup bed. We linger all afternoon, grazing on leftovers, sneaking another piece of pie, and competing in a fierce cornhole tournament.

A full shop is a full heart.

I think of the old hymn,

“Blest be the tie that binds

Our hearts in Christian love. 

The fellowship of kindred minds 

Is like to that above.” 

We are deeply grateful for the family we gained during our years at Cookson Hills. It’s a preview of heaven to reunite around the Thanksgiving table each year. To all our Cookson Hills tribe, as long as you don’t mind the whiff of motor oil, we’ve saved a place at the table for you!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Aileen Gronewold, former Cookson Hills Houseparent and current Board Member, lives in Joplin, Missouri with her husband Roger. She delights in her family and calls her grandchildren the “frosting of life.” She’s an avid reader, an aspiring writer, loves fashion, fishing, and Fantasy Football.