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  • Writer's pictureRoMa Johnson

Thanksgiving 2020

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day here in England. I have to be content with nostalgia. Fortunately, I have a vast store of memories from which to choose:

  • All the years my parents and us girls—and later Gregg, of course—piled in the DeSoto and went “home” to Nebraska: Dad singing “Oh Mister Moon,” “Shine on Harvest Moon” and all the other songs he knew with the moon in them, and “Shenandoah” and “I Told a Lie to my Heart” and all kinda Hank Williams songs as he drove; Mom silent; us kids in the back seat elbowing and squabbling, eventually drifting off to sleep (They did, not me, I had to sing along and keep track of the center line—when there was one—as it slid under the front of the car.) as we travelled the straight, townless road, lit only by the moon and our headlights, out East or due West, depending on where we lived at the time, Home. We never called where we lived “home,” it was just “the house” (like "Come on back in the house now!”). There was one place out where Colorado and Nebraska met up, where you had to go one way or the other. If Dad was driving, we went straight over the railroad tracks and turned right ‘til “Welcome to Nebraska, Home of Arbor Day” loomed and the road narrowed; on the very rare times when Mom was driving (Where was Dad? I don’t recall.) she would get lost where the road branched and stop the car and cry, sometimes for a long time, before she put the car back in gear and drove on. It was never good to let her know you were awake out there.

  • Thanksgiving Dinner at Grandma Gregg’s: all the aunts and uncles and cousins and food and food and food and all of it homegrown and straight off the farm: turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows on top, green beans, green peas, creamed corn, gravy, fresh baked bread and handmade butter and pies, oh my god, pies: pumpkin, apple, rhubarb, cherry, berry, pecan, lemon meringue, banana cream. There were big people tables in the living room and kids’ tables in the kitchen and babies being passed around, arm to arm, and more people coming in the back door bringing cakes and jello salads in all shades of the rainbow. There was a toast at one point, with Mogen David wine; everybody had a sip, even kids from somebody’s glass. After dinner the menfolk all went down to the basement to play poker and drink whiskey and smoke. That’s where I headed. Who wanted to be upstairs and listen to a bunch of gossip of who “got bit by the trouser worm”—a phrase used when “little pitchers with big ears” were around? The rest of the kids were bundled and mufflered and sent outside regardless of weather, but who wanted to run around with a bunch of wild cousins when you could sit on your Dad’s knee and lay down his next card, surrounded by men’s voices and smoke and delicious cussing?

  • The Ecumenical Thanksgiving services in Ashland, where all the woo-woos and spiritual folk gathered in the morning in a spirit of all-one-world. Swami Ty would bring a giant conch to blow to announce in turn: “And now we will hear from the Sufi Tradition, Blaaat; and now we will hear from the Jewish Tradition, Blaaat; and now we will hear from the Pagan Tradition, Blaaat; and now we will hear from the Christian Tradition, Blaaat; and now we will hear from the Native American Tradition, Blaaaat; and now we will hear from the Buddhist Tradition, Blaaat; and oh, there were more, until every Tradition had been represented prayerfully and joyfully in ecumenical bliss, and then we would end in an ecstatic circle of Divine Love before devolving into sects to vituperously argue about which way the chairs should be stacked when put away, and THEN we would all go up to Lucy’s and feast.

  • Or the Thanksgiving back In The Day when we ground up some (ok, a lot of) marijuana and mixed it into the stuffing before it went into the turkey and… and…um… I don’t really remember the rest.

  • And the Thanksgiving Day in New York when Glenn and I decided to take the train upstate a ways, and when we got off in Cold Spring or Nyack or somewhere and everything in town was shut up tight, and we walked up and up the rainy street until we came to a Mexican place that was open and went in. The café consisted of one long room of tables and chairs and one back room crossways to it, containing a couple of active pool tables. There were dozens of men in the place—the only woman besides me was the waitress—all Latin American, all speaking every kind of Spanish but Mexican, and it dawned on us that they were migrant workers, up in El Norte sin familia having a Feast Day off, but not invited to the feast.

  • Oh, and the year when I split from my boyfriend in Seattle and drove to LA through three states of rain in a car that wouldn’t go uphill and poured water up through the floorboards and arrived at Huey’s house just in time for potluck Thanksgiving dinner, feeling untethered and estranged and bedraggled, and I went to get a slice of Turkey from the sideboard and it was Tofurkey! And I burst into tears of disgust and dislocation and blasphemy (How could they?) and hid in the kitchen and a guy I met a long time ago followed me in and said, “Hello beautiful,” and it was Glenn.

Willie Nelson sings a song

There’s an old house key in a kitchen drawer

To the door I can’t unlock no more

Sometimes I hold that key real tight

But What do you do after goodbye?

Night and Day, night and day

You remain.

They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day here in England. I try to tell them they don’t know what they’re missing.

God Bless.


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