There are so many reasons for Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving. Despite political turmoil, international terrorism, nuclear threats and hurricane devastation, the American way of life and our blessings should leave us grateful.

While I have always loved Thanksgiving with the food, family and recognition of our blessings, one area of life has gone overlooked, perhaps taken for granted: the blessing of good friends. We can be grateful, always, for our parents and grandparents, even though they had no choice with us. Friends, however, make the decided choice to stand by us. I never really thought of this blessing till lately.

On Halloween evening, my greatest longtime friend passed away, leaving a wonderful family — really my second family — and a wide array of friends and buddies: Dr. Stephen Winarick, a local podiatrist till his retirement 17 years ago. The hole left in so many hearts will ache with sadness forever.

Steve was born and reared in the northeastern United States, arriving in Texas in the early 1970s as a podiatrist with the Air Force. He later purchased a podiatry practice in Waco and practiced here for nearly 25 years before retiring in 2000.

Steve possessed the most amazing joie de vivre I’ve ever witnessed. This made him the center of attraction, the light in the room, no matter where he was. He was a talented storyteller and humorist with a quick wit. He also had a strong opinion about pretty much everything. He gave that opinion in a frank, “how-the-cow-ate-the-cabbage” fashion, often followed by one of his favorite jokes.

Perhaps his greatest attribute was his passionate love for his wife, children and particularly his grandchildren. He had shown this passion for his son and daughter, taking great pride in their accomplishments and activities. Over two decades since his son played basketball for Waco High, for instance, those Waco High teammates, all African-American, remained in touch with “Pops.” And unbeknownst to many of his friends, Steve provided scholarships for a number of Waco High athletes to attend college.

What I have now added to my Thanksgiving list of blessings is the gift of Steve’s friendship, trust, concern and help over four decades. I realize now — almost too late — that few of us in our lives are blessed with one or two best friends and friendships that endure almost a lifetime. We live in fast-moving lives and often take for granted that the best of life and friends will last forever. But “forever” is a fleeting expression of time. And when that time ends, we must then give thanks for rich memories.

And so this Thanksgiving I feel blessed for a friendship that outlasted so many other things in my life. I am thankful for warm, honest and humorous memories. And I hope that as we all sit down to the Thanksgiving table of our choice and give thanks for family, health, prosperity or success in life, we add the blessing of good friends to our appreciation list.

A favorite song made famous by Bette Midler, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” comes to mind thinking of best friends … friends who make us better. Those words are so meaningful, especially now as I contemplate the loss of a good friend in my life:

“Did I ever tell you you’re my hero?

You’re everything, I wish I could be

Fly, fly, fly high against the sky

So high I almost touch the sky.

Thank you, thank you

Thank God for you

The wind beneath my wings.”

Civic leader Harry Harelik is a longtime Wacoan.