EACH YEAR in November I’m reminded of the strangers who have included me in their family Thanksgivings because I was apart from my own kin. All it took the first time was a wistful, “No, no real plans,” when someone asked if I would be with my family for Thanksgiving. I was scooped up, plunked into a chair at their table and stuffed with turkey and pumpkin pie before I could take a breath.
My immediate family is small (living 5,000 miles away from the old homestead will do that) and on occasion we were ALL scooped up, fussed over, feted and fed.
I don’t want to give the impression that I never celebrated Thanksgiving with loving friends or family. I often did that. But there were also those times when someone I barely knew looked at me with horror when I said I’d be alone for the day. “Come to us!” they’d cry. “We’re having 12/23/40 people; one more won’t make any difference and we’d love to have you.”
The first time was in New York (“unfriendly” New York), where I was sent by the editor for whom I was freelancing, on the day before the holiday. This meant I found myself on Thanksgiving morning in a Manhattan hotel room a thousand miles from home with nothing to do because everything was shut up tight for the holiday.
Strangers #1 and 2: The invitation came from the wife of the photographer I’d met the day before on our assignment. “Don’t be alone on Thanksgiving. We invite everyone who’s in town,” she said, “we’d love to have you.”
Stranger #3: The cabbie who drove me (without complaint) out to Brooklyn said he’d wait until my friends opened their door because we were in a very unfriendly part of the city. This is a New York cabbie. Working on a holiday. When the door opened, he tooted his horn, and headed back to Manhattan and–I sincerely hope–a festive meal with friends and family.
The table was plywood on sawhorses covered in bedsheets and it was laden with platters of food for the thirty or so guests, most of whom were strangers to each other, if not to our hosts. Multiple turkeys, a bathtub’s worth of stuffing, vast green bean casseroles, mountains of mashed potatoes with buckets of gravy, half the cranberry crop of Massachusetts, and pumpkin, apple, and sweet potato pies, served with whipped cream or ice cream.
Strangers #4-23: It wasn’t possible to meet everyone but, since nearly all were working journalists, there was no shortage of conversation. One interesting non-journalist was a former SDS member, now a preacher, who clearly had found the light.
Strangers #24 and 25: The dinner guests who insisted on driving me back to Manhattan even though they lived in another Borough. It added half an hour to their late night trip home.
Thanksgiving, sure enough, is a holiday for family and friends, a time for a traditional meal, maybe a walk in the fresh air, maybe a football game, maybe a nap.
It is also a holiday when I have sometimes relied on, and been rewarded by, the kindness of strangers.