“Where have I been other Thanksgivings?” is a little game I play with myself as this ritual marker in the year rolls around. Without my journals at my fingertips, not an easy question to answer, but interesting to see what surfaces in the memory.
Growing up in New Jersey, we often had a family over to share the day and in retrospect, it perhaps was my first encounter with the foreign. The father was from Egypt and his three kids were named Mona, Omar and Ramses. I believe my folks met them at the Unitarian Church and later my Dad became business partners working on the first biodegradable detergents.
On my first Thanksgiving back from college in 1969, I went to my girlfriend’s house in Brooklyn and shared the day with famous or soon-to-be-famous authors Sol Yurick, Marge Piercy and Eric Carle. I’m sure none of them would remember meeting another long-haired hippie against the war, but they became part of my name-dropping list. Even yesterday, my daughter was reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to granddaughter Zadie and I was able to impress her with “Did you know that I once had Thanksgiving dinner with Eric Carle?” Ka-ching! Big points.
A couple of years later I spent my first Thanksgiving far away from home at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio with a rag-tag group of folks who couldn’t get home for the holiday. But it was at that dinner that I first heard a Scott Joplin record (the Joshua Rifkin one) and it proved to be a significant doorway into committing myself to jazz piano. And along with Art Tatum, I still play this music on Thanksgiving Day, this most American of musics for this most American of holidays.
Settling in San Francisco in the early 70’s, I remember a Thanksgiving with my sister, her husband and some of her modern dancer friends from the Margeret Jenkins Dance Company. My brother-in-law made a macrobiotic pumpkin pie with no sweetening. I was trying hard to participate in the brave new world we were creating, but this went too far!
And then came the flat on Castro St., my first time living with a woman who was soon to become wife and a few months into my first big job with no inkling that 38 years later, I would still be there. We had twenty people over to eat, that exciting feeling of being young adults creating a family larger than mere blood ties. The next year in someone’s barn in Sonoma County, another with the folks in the Ockeghem Chorus I helped start and then our most different to date, a modest Greek salad in Athens, Greece about to fly to India in our year of travel around the world.
And on it went. First turkey meal with two-month old daughter Kerala, my sister in labor on our couch while we ate quickly at the table nearby, Karen’s water breaking just as we were leaving from our Calistoga gathering. Cooking with Kerala today, I asked her what she remembered and out came the stories of eating too much pumpkin pie and never eating it since, fasting all day to further enjoy the meal and getting a horrible stomache after, spending some of it in her room when we finally caught her torturing her sister Talia. Once the kids came, we alternated years with my sister’s family, were blessed with fifteen Thanksgivings with my parents after they moved out in 1992 and had a delightful moment when Kerala came home on a cheap ticket from Brown University, rang the bell and surprised us!
And here I am in another memorable moment, first Thanksgiving with little Zadie, Kerala, husband, Ronnie, Karen (Talia peeking in on Skye) in company with step-grandson Alijah and his grandfather on a beautiful sunny day in Washington DC. Obama is in the White House nearby, the 49’ers are showing promise for the Super Bowl, but the lion’s share of gratitude is simply that we are here, blessed with the gift of life. My little stories above mean little to the people who weren’t there (and maybe not much to them), but it’s an exercise I recommend. Take a moment to remember those who were with us, those who still are, those who have gone, and give our little bow of gratitude that such miracles came to pass. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.