GRATITUDE

"Damn! Can't those recruits do anything right?" Jack exclaimed as he added the latest progress report to the stack of papers on his desk.

It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. At least he'd have a few days off from his current headache. At the rate these kids were going, Jack was sure they'd get themselves killed before they ever went off world. And I'm responsible for working the miracle that'll extend their sorry lives for a few more missions, he thought morosely.

Dropping himself into his chair, Jack's eyes fell on the family photo featured prominently on the side of his desk. There he was, his arm around Sam, three-year-old Jon on Sam's lap and the twins standing on either side of their parents. Everyone in the shot, even Jack O'Neill, today's old curmudgeon, was smiling. In spite of his current foul mood, thoughts of his family brought a smidgeon of light into Jack's otherwise dark day.

She'd always been his salvation. From the beginning, Samantha Carter, happily now O'Neill, had been the light of his life. In those early days, her presence was a source of frustration on so many levels, but even then, the thought of seeing her, working with her and simply flirting with her, kept him going. Her smile and enthusiasm for life held some of his demons at bay.

Almost ten years ago, things had changed. Regulations no longer kept them apart. Now, nearly nine years into their marriage, he marveled at the love that drew and held them together. Jake, Grace, and Jon, the amazing children he loved with all his heart, were tangible signs of that love.

OoOoOo

Cooking had never been her strong suit. Samantha O'Neill excelled at many things, but cooking was not one of them. Over the years of her marriage, especially once the twins were born, she'd made a concerted effort to improve her culinary skills, but some things were not meant to be.

Fortunately, in the past few years, the O'Neills had nurtured a holiday tradition that included friends and neighbors, some of whom brought their domestic skills with them. Mrs. Crusher, their next door neighbor, friend and honorary grandmother figure, had taken on the challenge of teaching Sam some basic cooking skills. Better yet, the octogenarian often supplemented holiday menus with some of her own delicious creations. And Cassie, well Cassandra Frasier had become something of a gourmet chef during her time away at school. Thanksgiving dinner presented the perfect opportunity to showcase her abilities.

The one part of the Thanksgiving feast Sam seemed to have mastered was roasting a delectable turkey. So while Cassie, Janet and Mrs. Crusher took charge of side dishes and desserts, Sam supervised the main course.

On this night before Thanksgiving, the foremost scientific mind of the century was elbow deep (slight exaggeration) in the insides of this year's bird. The prep work was definitely one of her least favorite kitchen tasks. She'd already managed to splatter some of the giblets over the floor and her hands were a mess. By the time she'd managed to get the turkey cleaned, she dropped down in a kitchen chair and started to laugh.

Who would have thought it? Nine years ago who'd have thought I'd be sitting here doing this, let alone be a wife and mother? Nine years ago, I'd be off doing who knows what on Thanksgiving, certainly not cleaning turkeys. Without her conscious realization, the corners of Sam's mouth turned up into a lovely smile as she felt her heart swell. Things had certainly changed.

She had reasons to come home, reasons to fret over a nice dinner. A husband who loved her and made her feel cherished and appreciated for who she was. That in itself was pretty remarkable. How she'd waited so many years, watching from afar and seldom even touching him, she had no idea. She loved and respected Jack in ways she never believed possible. She'd trusted him from the very beginning. Now she trusted him with her life, with her heart and with three beautiful children. Their children. Sam closed her eyes happily at the thought, picturing the three munchkins, tucked peacefully in their beds, in her mind's eye. She would do anything for them. Jake, Grace and Jon, three young lives created in love.

OoOoOo

"Mom, do you know where the card stock is. I can't find any in the computer drawer," seven-year-old computer wizard Jake asked, early Thanksgiving morning as his parents were just waking up.

Sam was standing in the kitchen, sipping her first cup of morning coffee.

"In the cabinet behind the television," she replied, wondering again why Jack had insisted on storing computer supplies there. And they said scientists were impractical.

"Morning," Jack said as he snuck up on his wife from behind, wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing her neck.

"Morning, yourself. And Happy Thanksgiving," Sam responded, turning in his arms to give him a proper holiday kiss.

"Kids working on their lists, I see," Jack observed, as the twins stood on either side of Jon helping their little brother compose his first gratitude list. "Don't you think Jon's a bit young to understand this?"

"He's turned three, Jack. Never too young to understand the meaning of 'thanksgiving'," Sam said, gently turning to watch their three whirling dervishes. All three were hard at work, reminding her of the innocent, loving cherubs she suspected they really were.

Like most parents, Jack and Sam O'Neill wanted to give their children the best of everything. Fairly early on, they realized this was most important when it came to intangible things like love, guidance and respect. They hoped the family holiday traditions they'd developed over the past few years, including the Thanksgiving gratitude list, would help instill a strong set of values in the young lives entrusted to their care.

"Have you written yours yet?" Sam whispered to her husband, knowing he struggled each year in his attempts to put his strong feelings into words.

"As a matter of fact, I have," he said proudly. No better time to work on it than yesterday when I was ready to give up on the recruits. You know, it actually made me feel better."

"Does change a grumpy attitude, doesn't it?"

"Sure does," Jack smiled, reaching for a cup of coffee. "What can I do to help with dinner preparations?"

"Turkey's in the oven. Company's bringing just about everything else. It would be great if you and the kids would set up the dining room."

"Will do."

OoOoOo

Daniel, Janet and Teal'c arrived shortly after 1400 hours. Laden with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy and homemade dinner rolls, the three friends were warmly welcomed to the holiday celebration. A few minutes later, Cassie pulled up. Carrying casserole dishes filled with Hubbard squash, the traditional green bean concoction (the twins' favorite way to eat "green stuff") and Sam's favorite home-made cranberry sauce, Cassie had outdone herself.

Finally, Mrs. Crusher arrived. To Jack's way of thinking, her arrival was the most important. After all, she'd been entrusted with dessert this year.

"Dorothy, you shouldn't have!" Jack exclaimed as his favorite neighbor arrived, bearing gifts for his sweet tooth.

"Now Jack, don't be ridiculous," Dorothy Crusher warned him in her still strong, motherly voice. "It is Thanksgiving after all; a little fussing is to be expected."

"Dorothy, Happy Thanksgiving," Sam said, coming over to welcome the older woman. Smiling broadly, Sam took two pies and a chocolate cake from her friend's hands.

"Grandma Dorothy!" The call went up from two corners of the house simultaneously as the twins came running. In seconds, all three children were vying for Dorothy Crusher's attention, which she always bestowed without reserve.

"We're grateful for you, you know," Jake said solemnly.

At that, the kindly neighbor took a seat and gathered the O'Neills' firstborn onto her lap. "I'll tell you a secret, Jake. I'm grateful for you and your family too." Dorothy Crusher had lost her own family – son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren -- in an airline accident nearly five years ago. The friendship she'd developed with the O'Neills had been a blessing for everyone involved.

"It's snowing, Mom!" Grace called excitedly from her seat at the kitchen table.

"So it is, Princess. I'm glad everyone's here and we're all warm and dry. In fact, as soon as everybody's settled in, we can start our gratitude prayer," Sam said, looking towards her husband for his agreement. Jack smiled and gestured toward the family room.

"Gratitude prayer" was the phrase the O'Neills used to describe their most treasured Thanksgiving tradition. Though one could hardly describe Jack or Sam as particularly religious, the incredible events of their lives had conspired to convince them their current happiness was more than a fluke. With that realization, had come a profound sense of gratitude. Over the years of their marriage, as circumstances threatened to separate them, their appreciation of the gift they'd been given continued to grow. Believing in something beyond their own abilities took on a new importance once this extraordinary couple had children.

And so the first order of business for the family's Thanksgiving celebration focused on expressing gratitude. The tradition they'd shared with their guests over the years asked everyone to share from their hearts what they were most grateful for during the past year.

The children, as young as they were, had taken to this right away. Surprisingly the concept of gratitude came naturally to the twins. They in turn had explained it to little Jon, just this morning, the first year he was old enough to begin to understand.

The explanation had gone something like this:

"Jon, Jake and I are going to help you with your gratitude list," Grace had begun.

"What that?" the little boy had asked, curiosity evident in his inflection.

Deep in thought for a moment, Grace attempted an explanation, "Gratitude means saying 'thank you'. Today is Thanksgiving. It's a special day to say thank you."

"…for cookie?" The toddler asked, remembering how Mommy and Daddy had trained him to say thank you when he was given cookies or other treats.

Grace looked puzzled at first, but Jake was right there with his little brother. "Yeah, Jon. It's like cookies. Only today we say thank you for other things too. Really important things. People you like a lot; things you would never want to lose, stuff like that. "

"My truck?" the little boy asked, still struggling to get his mind around this one.

"Okay. Cookies, truck…" Grace encouraged. "What else?"

"Mommy… Big Bird ..." the tiny boy continued. From there, the list encompassed all sorts of animate and inanimate objects. Once he started, the little guy was on a roll limited only by his vocabulary and egged on by the enthusiasm of his older siblings.

Within minutes, the third graders had completed a pretty extensive list for their young brother, typed up as a computer generated card, no less. There were a few misspellings, but everyone was quite proud of themselves, including Jon.

By the time family and guests gathered for prayer before the Thanksgiving meal, everyone, including the children had taken time to call to mind and relish the best of the past year and the importance of "thanksgiving". Jake settled on Mrs. Crusher's lap in front of the fireplace, while Grace snuggled with her father on the large recliner.

Across the room, Teal'c sat cross legged on the floor as if preparing to Kel'noreem, while Daniel lounged comfortably, his arm around Janet's shoulder. Cassie and Sam sat close to each other on the sofa while Jon bounced happily between the two of them.

After a few moments of silence, friends and family began to speak of the year's blessings and their gratitude.

Janet smiled, wiping a tear or two from her eye, as Cassie told everyone how glad she was to be home for the holiday. Teal'c spoke of his love and gratitude for his new wife, unable to join him today and waiting for him on Chulak. Daniel beamed as he eloquently spoke of his gratitude for Janet and his happiness in their new marriage.

The twins, used to the whole process, joined in with the adults as they talked about all the things that made them happy in their lives. There were smiles all around; this was a time when everyone in the room had the opportunity to hear how appreciated they were by friends and family.

Finally, as the gratitude prayer was coming to an end, Grace got up and walked over to Jon. "Now, do it now," she whispered. As if on cue the little boy threw his arms around Sam's neck and shouted, "Love you!" Then he jumped off the sofa, holding his home made gratitude card and ran over to his father. Once standing in front of Jack, the toddler presented him with the card, threw open his arms and proclaimed, "my very bestest Daddy!"

Jack grinned broadly, his eyes watering, as he bent down to pick up his youngest son. With a full heart, Jack O'Neill silently thanked the God who had blessed him with more happiness than his heart could hold.


A/N: Many prayers and good wishes for a joyful Thanksgiving holiday!