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Bless this House
by Laura Sweeney Shewalter

"Aunt Edith is coming for Thanksgiving." Growing up, those words would send a shiver of excitement through the whole house. Aunt Edith was my great aunt on my mother's side. She lived in Windsor, Ontario, and most years of my childhood she would make the journey from the north to join us in our American Thanksgiving.

She was a woman well ahead of her time. She was a strong, independent, dynamic soul. She had been a school teacher and chose to remain single which was an exception to the norm at that time. She oozed with a love of life and warmth especially evident in how she interacted with us as children. We were important and interesting to her. She wanted to know all about our lives and everything we were involved in.

She, herself, was very exciting and had a magnitude of talents which she shared freely!

She would bring with her a love of knitting and inevitably matching hats and mittens for all the girls. As we grew older our mother would allow us to put them in our book bags only to adorn ourselves with them a block or so from home so as not to hurt her feelings; something we would never want to do.

She spent hours with each of us teaching us how to knit. I am sure today I can remember the basic stitch, but unfortunately that is all. One of my sisters continues to dabble in it and I am certain that thrills our aunt!

She brought her passion for music and piano. I remember her helping me with my "Silver Bells" in preparation for a Christmas recital that was well above my skill level. My piano teacher allowed me to try it, because I promised her my Great Aunt Edith was coming and would help me with it! And did she! We sat side by side for hours until my fingers had it memorized and I could play it effortlessly. I was so proud of myself. The only person prouder was Aunt Edith herself.

Fortunately, for everyone, when I would finish poking out my Christmas Carols she would sit down and gift us with her beautiful playing and strong rich voice. Of all the things she left us with the most treasured gift is "Bless This House".

"Bless This House" is a song published in 1927. One of the first artists to record it was John McCormack. It has been sung by various artists throughout the years but I have never heard a version as beautiful as when my family sings it on Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving, before we sat down to our dinner, Aunt Edith would play "Bless This House" and everyone would gather around the piano and sing. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, parents and siblings; the old and the young with a mix of lyrics and vocal skills. Only a few people would brave the verses with the lofty high notes, but all would rejoin when the chorus resumed.

My mother's voice would always carry us through those high notes beautifully. When others would forget the words, we could count on my mom to lead us. When I was very young I loved this tradition. Looking around and seeing all of my family standing together and joining in prayer and song was moving even then.

Year after year it was used as our grace before meals. Eventually someone had the good sense to print out the lyrics so we could all participate. As happens in all families, time has changed our landscape. Aunt Edith stopped coming for Thanksgiving; initially, due to general age issues and concern about being out of her country should a health care issue arise. Then, sadly, Aunt Edith passed away.

As good traditions do, the singing of "Bless This House" continued. One year, without Aunt Edith to lead us, my father employed Anna McGoldrick, one of his favorite vocalists, to direct us via CD. Eventually the piano was moved to my sister's house and the celebration of Thanksgiving was moved to another sister's home. Some years it was the planned grace, other years it simply occurred spontaneously after the meal.

Sadly, some of the voices which joined us in my childhood are no longer there. We sang it on Thanksgiving Day 1992, an hour or so before my beloved Uncle Slim passed away. I like to think he could hear us from his hospital bed a few miles from our gathering. In addition to Aunt Edith and Uncle Slim, my grandmother has passed on as well. While we miss the family members no longer with us, I know they are there when we sing. We have also been blessed by the addition of wonderful in-laws and an entire generation of children has joined us.

This past Thanksgiving after a beautiful meal while many of us were still sitting around the table, afraid to move after such an excess of food, we realized we had not yet sang. There were no lyrics out and we couldn't quite get past the chorus. Much of my mother's memory has been stolen by Alzheimer's and the words eluded even her.

Thanks to modern day technology, in a matter of seconds, various technological devices found a video of Perry Como singing Bless this House with captioned lyrics and my mother was able to lead us once again. The sound of her voice carried so many memories in it that I knew she remembered the tradition and all it held.

As I looked at all of the hand-held devices which allowed us to continue our tradition, I wondered aloud what Aunt Edith would think if she were here to see this 21st century version. We all agreed she would love it!

It is comforting to know that there are some things time and even Alzheimer's cannot take away. And please, until we all come together again next year, bless this house, Lord, bless this house.


Bless this house, O Lord we pray,
Make it safe by night and day…
Bless these walls so firm and stout,
Keeping want and trouble out…
Bless the roof and chimneys tall,
Let thy peace lie overall…
Bless this door that it may prove,
Ever open, to joy and love…

Bless these windows shining bright,
Letting in god's Heavenly light.
Bless the hearth, the painting there,
With smoke ascending like a prayer!
Bless the folk who dwell within,
Keep them pure and free from sin…
Bless us all that we may be,
Fit O Lord to dwell with thee…
Bless us all that one day we may dwell,
O Lord! With Thee!

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