Guest columnist Jonathan Kahane: One new family story to tell

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By JONATHAN KAHANE

Published: 11-30-2023 6:31 AM

My 78th Thanksgiving has come and gone — the quintessential American family holiday when kin gather together to tell the same old stories and laugh at the same old jokes over and over again. (Did I tell you the one about the time in 1955 when I went to Yankee Stadium and saw the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Yankees in seven to win the World Series?).

As the history books describe it, the tradition began in 1621 when 90 Wampanoag tribal members broke bread with 53 Mayflower survivors following their first harvest in the “New World.” Upon reading, the “Thanksgivings” that followed were not always as peaceful and enjoyable. Sound familiar?

Skipping ahead a few years, in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln, after the bloody Battle of Gettysburg that is usually acknowledged to have turned the tide in favor of the Union after 50,000 American casualties, proclaimed the last Thursday in November a day to ask for “peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”

President FDR fiddled around with the date in 1939, and it was than euphemistically called “Franksgiving.” Finally Congress, in its trademark expedient and practical manner, made it official — the last Thursday in November.

Although references are made to religion at various times, the holiday seems to have taken on a more secular ambiance. At least that’s true for our family. Thank God!

But as Arlo Guthrie once crooned in his classic song “Alice’s Restaurant,” “But that’s not what I came to tell you about.” His song also detailed the saga of one of his memorable Thanksgivings and its aftermath.

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I thought it might be interesting, and perhaps even useful, to share some of the highlights of this year’s celebration among my brood. It won’t take much thought and insight to learn from this account how your assemblage might profit from our fête.

The gala was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico where my older son and his family reside. Family members (27 of us) from across the U.S. were to meet for the entire week before the Big Day. The day before many were to arrive, one family had to cancel because their little one was in bed with a fever. In fact, only 10 of us made it to the table on Thanksgiving Day due to illness. (COVID was not responsible for any absence.)

With regard to my travels, my flight was scheduled to take off at 6 a.m. on the Friday before turkey day, which meant I had to arrive at Bradley airport no later than 4 a.m. I had an hour car ride to Bradley, which meant that I had to arise at 2 a.m. The airport was mobbed with lines, even to get into a bathroom. I made it through security, only to be told that my flight was delayed. In turn, I ended up missing my connection to Albuquerque in Chicago.

I got to Albuquerque a day late. No big deal you might say, but the day I missed was my granddaughter’s second birthday. Paramount Pictures just purchased the rights to the sequel to “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

Each successive day saw the arrival of more family members, not to mention the in-laws. Before Thanksgiving Day, the same old stories and the same old jokes were told and retold yet again, each one embellished even more than the last rendition. (Did I tell you the one about the rabbi, the priest, and the minister …?) I’ll spare you. They’re the same ones told at your house.

The meal itself was also, shall we say, eventful. There were the requisite number of broken plates and glasses along with spilled beverages and assorted other accidents. The family legends were recounted one more time. (Did I tell you how I had to trudge through two miles of hip-deep snow to get to school in the winter?) I would have much preferred a turkey sandwich on rye with a glass of cranberry juice, in a paper cup, since I was on the dishwashing detail.

Ahh, Thanksgiving. I already have my plane ticket for next year. I certainly wouldn’t want to miss all that fun.

Jonathan Kahane lives in Westhampton.