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The Table

The Table The Table

You don’t have to be thankful

My childhood memories of Thanksgiving center on my mother. Not surprising, since she did all the work and the rest of us waited for the food to appear. My brother and I may have been asked to set the table or peel the potatoes, but it was my mother who did all the planning and all the shopping, who got up early to stuff an enormous turkey and get it in the oven. She mashed the potatoes, made the gravy, steamed the green beans and sliced pies she had baked the day before. When all else was ready, she filled the cut glass tumblers with cranberry juice before setting them on a freshly ironed linen tablecloth, their brilliantly red contents sparkling in the light of the candles that rested in their polished silver holders.

Then my father settled himself into the chair at the head of the table and took charge. He was delegated two tasks on Thanksgiving: carve the turkey and demand that everyone list their gratitudes. I’m sure that many of you have been subjected to similar annoying intrusions into the holiday feast--that occasion when somebody, in the glow of the moment, suggests that everyone should share some glimpse into their personal bliss. It’s like the auntie who wants to kiss you on the cheek, or the cousin who’s a hugger--except this unsolicited intimacy tries to get in your head.

I was always felt a small panic when Dad made this demand. Even as a child I was a private person, so this seemed like none of his business, for starters. And it wasn’t as if we weren’t all aware that there were right and wrong answers to this query. Be glib and deflective to protect your privacy, and you were being a spoilsport. Tell the truth and there was just a little more of your soul out there than was comfortable.

Expressions of thankfulness are better left unforced, especially in times like these. Most people I know are carrying an extra load of stress and worry right now, even if they have not been directly impacted by the crises shaking our world. But many friends and relations are traumatized through working with Covid patients, losing their income or having their own health threatened. If they find their way through all the complexity of their experiences and discover a sense of gratitude for the things they still have or the support they are given, I am glad for them. But I think it best if nobody demands that they make a public declaration of their list of gratitudes at the dinner table.

Thanksgiving will look a lot different for most people this year. Not for natural hermits like me and Tom. We like to let holidays pass us by while we enjoy one another’s company in our little house in the woods. We don’t go through a whole lot of fuss and bother for just the two of us--turkey legs in the crockpot, steamed vegetables and date bars should just about do it. Tom will have the assigned task of washing dishes. If he is moved by the warmth of the moment to start enumerating his gratitudes, I will bop him with a drumstick.