Today is Thanksgiving, your holiday, but not mine.
I have nothing against Thanksgiving at all, but it was never a big deal in my family, nor in my neighborhood.
I don’t know why.
No massive ingathering of family, no huge steroid-injected bird, no sense of being in a Norman Rockwell painting.
I call my sister, the best person I know, to check my memory against hers. Her recollection matches mine — no big deal at all.
So I speculate. No ingathering of family, maybe because one set of grandparents lived one floor above us in our red brick, five-story tenement in the South Bronx. The other set of grandparents lived in the five-story, tan brick tenement across the street.
Imagine that — all four grandparents within shouting distance. The grandparents were all immigrants, from various hellholes (for Jews) in Eastern Europe. Boy, did they have reasons to give thanks, and I’m sure they did, but not on the fourth Thursday of November.
To my memory, few families did in my Jewish and Italian neighborhood, with a scattering of Irish and Slavs.
My memories start in the post-War years, when no one had a car. We were working class, lower class, poor without feeling poor. No one had much, but we all had the same.
Maybe there wasn’t enough money for a Thanksgiving feast, but I don’t think it was lack of money, because Christmas brought out the big guns (or Passover for the Jews).
Turkeys are dirt cheap today; I have no idea what they sold for then, but I’m sure they weren’t as easy to cook, or as good.
We probably had a regular dinner on Thanksgiving, with maybe a special side dish, and I’m sure we gave thanks, but it was no Broadway production.
When I was married, Wife No. 1 wanted to show off her cooking skills, and we did have a big Thanksgiving meal, like in the movies, with friends from our Philadelphia neighborhood. As I remember, and I could be wrong, it was one and done.
The Italian family of Wife No. 2 did make a big deal out of Thanksgiving, but that came easy to my wonderful mother-in-law because she threw a huge meal every Sunday, with the family gathered around. The Sunday dinner is a wonderful facet of life in Italian South Philly, and peobably elsewhere inside and outside the city.
Over the years, here and there I had friends with a big bird and a big table, and I was happy to attend, lugging a cherry cheesecake from the now-departed Aramingo Diner.
Also over the years, the story of Thanksgiving has, um, evolved from a happy feast between thankful Pilgrims and charitable Indians.It is now Native Americans being infected by disease from Europeans who stole their land and their patent for corn. (This is the New York Times 1619 version. I prefer the original.)
The Plymouth Pilgrims were thankful for a good harvest in 1621, and to be alive because about half their number had died. Now, in 2020, Americans are facing massive deaths from the coronavirus and the government has warned against gatherings with people from outside your immediate family.
Some will take the advice, others will not.
This has been a long, strange, awful year.
Can we still be thankful?
Yes, because we live in the greatest Democracy the world has known — and we have three vaccines being rushed to market.
And because we believe next year will be better.