Jewish World Review Nov. 23, 2000/ 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761
Memories of Thanksgiving past
THERE WERE nearly always strangers at our Thanksgiving table: a lonely acquaintance who had
nowhere else to go, Johnny's college roommate, Annie's newest steady. And the soldiers. Many of
my memories are khaki-colored.
We embraced the newcomers with conversations of commonality and conviviality. We never took
photographs because we didn't want to interrupt the feast with silly smiles and stiff poses, but many
of the dinners became snapshots of memory of another time, a mix of history, personality and
politics (especially in election years).
The first Thanksgiving I remember was in 1942 as a tiny girl sitting at the table with handsome young
men in khaki who were far away from home. They were from cities with unfamiliar names --
Pittsburgh and New Orleans and Oklahoma City and a small town in Nebraska that I have long
since forgotten. Only one of them had ever been to Washington, on a high-school senior trip.
The guys joked that next year they would be dining on turkey out of a K-ration somewhere in a
foxhole, in the Pacific or in North Africa. I was too young to understand their terror, but I sensed
that it was such Thanksgivings as these they would be fighting for.
I showed them my red-white-and blue pin with the words "Remember Pearl Harbor,'' with an
enamel globe set with a real pearl. Mom brought out the gas mask and helmet issued to her as a
volunteer air-raid warden. The soldiers wanted to talk about their families gathered at distant tables,
of their sweethearts waiting back home. They ate seconds of everything, much to Mom's delight,
and but they especially liked the sweet potatoes with marshmallows. (Who didn't?) Dinner was
mellow and bittersweet, but a heavy and unspoken sadness hung over our goodbyes as the guys left
together for the walk to the streetcar line.
At our 1948 Thanksgiving, my New Deal parents gloated over the victory of Harry Truman over
Thomas E. Dewey. The celebrity stranger at the table was a freshman from George Washington
University who lived on the West Coast, too far away to go home for the short four-day holiday.
He had done volunteer work for Truman and boasted that he had "known'' that the pollsters were
wrong and that Truman would be elected. He told stories as if they were his own, as though he had
been in the president's inner circle. I particularly remember his description of Dewey's lazy
campaign. "He didn't run for president, he walked.'' We thought that was very clever.
Thanksgiving during the Truman years was khaki again. The soldiers would be shipping out this time
for Korea. There were heated discussions over the red-baiting of Joseph McCarthy and one guest
home from the University of Wisconsin sparked spirited debate when she called the senator an
embarrassment to the state. An uncle said she should be glad Joe McCarthy was fighting Commies.
My aunt quickly asked my uncle to pass the cranberry sauce and that was that.
The grimmest of all was the Thanksgiving week after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.
There was nothing to talk about but the tragedy and the fear that Lyndon Johnson wouldn't be up to
the job. We were thrilled that Jack and Jackie had brought "culture'' to our city and now there was
a vulgar Texan in the White House. We didn't have guests that year and nobody had much of an
appetite for a feast. We ate anyway.
As children grew up and got the college educations their immigrant grandparents never had, the
conversations at Thanksgiving grew more sophisticated and argumentative, particularly as each new
generation produced a crop of sophomores. Fashions and politics polarized the generations, causing
all kinds of indigestion. The boys with long hair and without ties and the girls with short dresses and
without bras soon gave way to orange hair, tattoos and body piercing. The fights over Vietnam,
Watergate and the Clinton impeachment pitted cousin against cousin and aunt against uncle, but we
survived. At least until this year.
Everybody's keeping their fingers crossed over this year. More than one invited young guest voted
for Ralph Nader. If the Gore and Bush fanatics start arguing over dimpled and pregnant chads we
might not make it to the pumpkin pie. There won't be any men in uniform, but more than one guest
will no doubt express outrage on behalf of those men in khaki whose votes were thrown away in
Florida. Not all the turkeys are on Thanksgiving tables this year. So praise the L-rd and pass the
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink
©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate