• jfnewman

On Thanksgiving this Year

Happy day-after Thanksgiving. It is morning, the early gloaming, and I am writing you from the living room of our beloved newish house. The walls are robin’s egg blue and the fireplace is red brick and the lace curtains billow when we throw open the windows, which we’ve done often, thankfully, during this mild but devasting fall.

Many of you have seen this room for yourselves, maybe joined us for a cocktail. If you have, it’s only been once, maybe twice, and nowhere near the number of times we’d hope to fill this house with friends and family and food and laughter which was, of course, our entire reason for choosing it. I wonder if this glum emptiness is how the people who built this place felt. They raised the roof in 1935, a cause for joy in the middle of a depression, and four years later a war tore the world apart.

Sometimes I sit in this room by myself and stream Glenn Davis big band music and imagine instead of a black wireless speaker on the credenza, there’s an Art Deco mahogany radio with big black dials standing in the corner. I imagine listening to a scratchy news-from-the-front broadcast—it worries me enough that I place my hand to my cheek and fret over our boys overseas. Outside, beyond the veil of our fluttering curtains, the world is quiet. In the stillness, I hear the echo of a Ford Super Deluxe sedan downshifting to make the turn off Gulf Street, the Army chaplain on his way to deliver a telegram no one wants to receive. Inside, in front of the red brick, buoyed by the melodies of Glenn Miller, the world is safe. Outside it is not.

When the enemy is invisible, there’s a temptation to view the devil as somehow within us. If there isn’t a foreign target where we can direct our fire, we have a tendecy to turn the guns on ourselves and look down the barrels for answers. How did we get here? Who should I blame?

The melancholy of our present moment is amplified by the dearth of special occasions to mark our days. Even if we do venture out in search of entertain or relief, the fun is always accompanied by a twinge of fear. If I go to a restuarant, will I get it? If I use the bathroom inside a friend’s house, how about then? We’ve spent the last year living without birthday parties, without graduations, without homecomings, and now, perhaps, without the holidays. There is nothing to separate a day in November from a day in April except, perhaps, the temperature, and even that seems unchanged. With the trees just as leafless, I wonder sometimes if any time has passed at all.

Yesterday, we endured a medley of maudlin commercials, of parade hosts, of persons-on-the-street telling us we still have so many reasons to give thanks. This is true, of course, but I’m rather inclined to tell those people to stuff it. Perhaps it’s better, more authentic, to indulge in the relative solitude of the day, of the moment, of 2020, so we can be thankful—joyously, blisteringly thankful—when this crisis passes and all the things we love return.

The house is stirring. It’s time to throw out the pumpkins and string the lights. Getting up to make coffee feels like returning to the front. In these small ways, we tighten our armor. The echo of the Super Deluxe fades away. Someday, someone else will sit in this living room and wonder how we survived. And the answer will be the same as it was eighty-five years ago, by soldiering on.

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