11/17/2014 06:00 pm ET Updated Jan 17, 2015

Thanksgiving: A Time to Give The Greatest Thanks

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I am going back many years to tell you a story about a young girl, her grandfather and her memories of her life in a small town at Thanksgiving. That young girl was me. I will have another post next week about a more recent Thanksgiving, but for now, let's go back in history.

I grew up in a small town and enjoyed a large extended family life. The town was Kankakee, Illinois. I gave it its nickname, "Kankakee by the Sea," to romanticize it in my mind. The community was made up of families of all religions and all economic backgrounds. I pay tribute to this town because, unknowingly, it helped mold me into who I am today. My friends were the policeman's daughter, the lawyer's son as well as the minister's and rabbi's children. A melting pot of children from all walks of life.

I had a grandfather who lived in this town. He was from Russia. He ran away from his country at the age of 19 to escape persecution. He traveled over thousands of miles by foot in the freezing cold and then by sea to reach America. He had no money and could not speak English. He wound up in "Kankakee by the Sea" because he had a cousin who immigrated to the town. He married my grandmother, Sarah. She passed away before I was born. My grandfather had five sons and 14 grandchildren; our family was wonderful. We always celebrated Thanksgiving together. Fourteen grandchildren, 10 parents, two grandparents, extended family relatives that included the in-laws and the out-laws and friends who had nowhere to celebrate. There were so many of us that my grandfather always rented the ballroom of the Kankakee Hotel to accommodate us. We were one large American family along with friends who needed us. The night was filled with laughter and delicious food and, most importantly, words from the Patriarch of my family, my grandfather.

He would make a speech in his broken English telling us to always love our wonderful country, The United States of America. To always speak of her with pride, to respect and defend her at all costs, to honor her as we traveled our own life's journey, and to take a stand to make sure all Americans had the chance for a life of liberty and justice.

He would then talk about the "pursuit of happiness" -- that we had the responsibility to pursue it for ourselves. That it was there for us to chase and then own in this wonderful country and that because we lived in a democracy we had the freedom to be anything our little hearts desired. And I, this young girl, would listen and learn and see with my own eyes that this grandfather of mine was a grand man and I decided that I would copy him as best I could in all that he did. And I did and I do.

Our actions and words are observed and held onto by our children and grandchildren. Be the best parent and grandparent. Your moral and ethical codes remain in their young heads just as my grandfather's remain in mine to this day as I think back about my Thanksgivings in Kankakee by the Sea.

I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving season! Pass your stories on to your children and grandchildren about your childhood Thanksgivings.