Some years ago, my wife directed a wonderful production of “The Long Christmas Dinner” by Thornton Wilder. In this play, the story of several generations of a family is told symbolically with family gathered at a long table for Christmas dinner. We see family members age and, when their time comes, they rise and slowly walk through a black curtain. Some young people walk through that curtain. Others leave the table quite suddenly.
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 arrived there. 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.
Time passes and new life comes on-stage. There is my wife who has taught me all I know about loving. My children are there, at first young with heads bowed expressing what they were thankful for. Then three of my children come to the table with spouses and children of their own. My fourth child arrives resplendent in the robes of a new PhD.
There are others who sit for a while. My boss at the mental health clinic on Ft. Bliss who always came with a voracious appetite. Other friends came once and then moved on to other tables. There is my son’s friend who came to the table last year, full of joy and enthusiasm, then suddenly walked through the Black Curtain this past summer.
So, as I return to that table next week, I will bow my own head and be grateful that I have been blessed with such bounty throughout my own Long Thanksgiving Dinner
Reflection: 1. Do you have a Long Thanksgiving Dinner story to tell? Is it a happy story? Sad? Both?
Thanksgiving for me requires that this song be played. It must be sung by Perry Como!