Outside the United States, Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday, nor even a thing — their loss — so I’m sometimes asked to explain the whole concept to foreigners. Here’s the story I tell to do so.
Tom worked in the office next door to mine, back at the Great Big Research Company in Chicago. He had moved down from Minneapolis to take the job, bringing his wife and kids with him. Under the term “Straight White Corporate Guy” in the dictionary, you’d find his picture: always immaculately dressed in suit and tie with polished Johnston & Murphy wingtips, glasses with thick lenses, hair cut short but not too short, a workaholic — you get the picture.
He also had a dark and impish sense of humor, completely out of character but made all the more enjoyable because it completely destroyed the stereotype. (At the staff cafeteria lunch table one day, we were discussing what we’d do if we won the lottery. Tom: “Porn movies.” “Make them or perform in them, Tom?” “Both.”)
It came about that on one Thanksgiving, instead of taking the family back to Minneapolis for the extended family reunion, Tom had to stay because of work pressure; He couldn’t leave on the Monday, as he usually did, so this year his wife and daughter went up early, while he stayed behind with his son, intending to drive up on the Wednesday evening.
Well, that never happened because on the day before Thanksgiving, the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul area was hit by a truly gargantuan snowstorm which was too much even for Minnesoduh to handle, which meant that Tom and his teenage son were stranded in Chicago until the day after Thanksgiving, at which point the roads would be clear enough for him to get there. But as for Thanksgiving Day itself? Just him and his boy.
Needless to say, there was no Thanksgiving meal, but Tom decided to make the most of it anyway, so he and his son went off to the nearby Jewel supermarket to get a substitute. Tom, of course, did not know how to cook, so they got two frozen turkey dinners and went off to the checkout.
The cashier was a lady in about her fifties, and when she saw the two lonely TV dinners on the belt, she looked at Tom incredulously and said: “Is this your Thanksgiving dinner?”
“Yes,” Tom said (and here’s where that sense of humor came in), “This year, it’s just the two of us.”
“What about your wife?”
“She’s not with us.” (said with just a touch of melancholy)
“Oh no,” said the cashier, distraught. Without a moment’s pause she said, “Would you and your son like to join my family for dinner later today?”
And this, my friends, is the meaning of Thanksgiving. This lady was prepared to open up her home and table to two total strangers, just so that they would have a family to share Thanksgiving with.
To his great credit, Tom was mortified, and with considerable embarrassment managed to extricate himself and his son from the predicament. But he never forgot the episode. Nor have I and, I hope, nor will you.
Despite everything, we Americans still have a lot to be thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.