In the past, I have written about Thornton Wilder’s beautiful one act play “The Long Christmas Dinner” in which the life cycle of a family is portrayed over an imagined dinner in which persons come in through a white birth curtain and leave through a black curtain.
For me, that table is set at Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. I can see generations gathered about that table. Many have gone through the Black Curtain, some quite suddenly, some way too young.
One of my sisters never even makes it to the table. She comes to the table and leaves immediately through the Black Curtain. My other sister sits for only a moment, then also leaves.
But I also see many loved ones who sat at that table many times. My parents and my brother are there. Although she is aged, my Mom leaves the table quickly while my father takes a long slow walk to the Black Curtain.
I see old Aunt Margaret, she who was in Paris when Lindbergh landed. She who saw Babe Ruth play baseball (“Clumsiest man I ever saw!”). She who, in her 90s, gave me the finest anti-war sentiment I ever heard as she shook her head and said “So many young men.”
There are my Uncle Gaddy and Aunt Peg, my surrogate grandparents. I never sat at the table with my grandmothers. They had walked through the Black Curtain before I walked through the white one.. My grandfathers were also gone by the time I was 7. So these two wonderful people filled a great void — Gaddy with his burly Irish accent, the smell of cigars about him and Peg, maker of the World’s Greatest Peanut Butter cookies.
Aunt Mary is there, she who was schizophrenic, carrying on a constant patter of self-talk or reading romance novels.
I see too my Uncle Joe and Aunt Kathleen. She was sophisticated and helped John F. Kennedy carry the vote in Rhode Island. He was a veteran of the South Pacific, down-to-earth, smoking a cigarette as he was dying of lung cancer. Among many things, he helped me love the Redsox.
I see my Aunt Dorothy, my father’s only sibling. She who never married and the day after she retired, quit drinking, packed up and moved to California to be closer to my brother, leaving behind a stunning example of courage.
This year for many there will be more empty chairs. For some those absences will reflect the ravages of COVID. For others, absence will be due to restrictions such as closed borders. Even the numbers allowed at tables will officially be limited.
This Thanksgiving more than any in recent memory will have a curtain of fear over it as COVID numbers rage and our country endures a less-than-smooth transition in government. There has been a part of me that is grateful some loved ones have passed through the black curtain and do not have to endure these times
And yet, as I gather with my family, I will pause to be grateful for the many wonderful people, friends and family alike, who have gathered at my Thanksgiving table in person or in spirit. There will be new members at this year’s Long Thanksgiving Dinner. A beautiful grandson has walked through the white curtain. As always, others who were present in the past have slowly or quickly left the table for the black curtain. Yet all who grace and have graced that table will be present. We will join hands in gratitude and in hope, remembering especially this year the words from Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”