Last year’s Thanksgiving was Jennifer Garrison’s first without her father and brother.
Both died unexpectedly within a few months of each other.
On Thursday, she spent the same holiday without her 21-year-old daughter, Jordan, or JoJo, who was killed June 15 in a car crash on White Oak Road.
At first, Jennifer Garrison wanted to go to Cracker Barrel for Thanksgiving and call it a day. Anything else might be too emotionally taxing.
But her husband, James, insisted on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Their children suggested a repeat of last year’s meal with relatives at the family’s small Stafford County townhome. Jennifer Garrison didn’t think she could handle that.
So James Garrison, a facilities manager at Ramoth Baptist Church, decided to reserve the church’s social hall for a meal with relatives. Maybe a change in scenery would help, he thought.
What was originally supposed to be a family Thanksgiving morphed into something more.
Jennifer Garrison told her daughter she could invite a Marine friend and some of his buddies. But the friend would be away with family, so Garrison’s aunt suggested inviting Marines who could not be with relatives.
The aunt—who used to work at Marine Corps Base Quantico—called a point-person there and word subsequently spread, with more than 20 Marines accepting the invitation. The family shuttled many of them to the dinner in two buses lent by Ramoth Baptist.
Garrison’s late father, David Ojibway, would have liked that. He served in the Marines from 1968–72 and, in his later years, sometimes went to Quantico’s food court and randomly paid for peoples’ meals.
Her late brother, Herb Ojibway, also had a connection to Quantico, having worked as a firefighter there.
Garrison’s dad died of a stroke on Dec. 30, 2016, and her brother succumbed to a blood clot in his lung on March 10 of the following year.
Dozens of relatives and non-family members also attended the Garrison family’s Thanksgiving feast.
Jennifer Garrison’s niece invited her Spotsylvania High School Spanish teacher.
People from a depression support group turned out.
And a pastor and his wife, both recently injured after their vehicle collided with a deer, showed up because they could not cook for themselves.
Jennifer Garrison said she and her husband planned to provide all of the food and asked relatives if they could help prep the meal on the evening before Thanksgiving. But people, some of whom do not even know the Garrisons, ended up donating food after hearing the family’s story secondhand.
By Wednesday, they had six turkeys, two hams, a venison roast and barbecue, and “sides and desserts out the wazoo,” Garrison said.
The family dubbed it “Jordan’s Two Fish and Five Loaves Thanksgiving.”
Jordan’s grandmother, Brenda Ojibway, described the tribute in an email, writing: “Jennifer and James Garrison wanted to turn their inward grief into an outer focus to honor Jordan’s giving spirit.”
Jennifer Garrison described her daughter as a “behind-the-scenes” type of person who had an auditory processing disorder and could be anxious around large crowds. Still, she would help anybody, she said.
In fourth grade, Jordan started donating to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital after a classmate missed the school year with cancer. And she always put money in the Salvation Army’s red kettles, often discreetly.
A 2015 Stafford High School graduate, Jordan was a hostess at Cowboy Jack’s at the time of her death. She was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a teenager when the fatal crash occurred.
Jordan did not have a driver’s license, so her grandfather used to take her to class at Germanna Community College and wait there until she finished. They had breakfast together before class or lunch afterward.
Jordan was afraid that, if she got a license, the time with her “pop” would end, Jennifer Garrison said. The two often sat in silence during meals, prompting relatives to ask whether they ever got bored.
“They said no, because neither one of them needed to talk—they just liked their time together,” Jennifer Garrison said.
Jordan would not have been interested in socializing with strangers had she been alive for this year’s Thanksgiving celebration, her mom said. But she would have done anything to contribute to the event’s success, no recognition required.
“She would love us helping people,” Jennifer Garrison said.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402