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For these blessings

By William J. Murdoch / November 23, 1982



For the first time since our second year of marriage there would be just the two of us for Thanksgiving.

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The children, all four of them, would have Thanksgivings of their own - in the military, visiting in-laws, at home in distant cities. We told each other we hoped they would all have a happy day and tried not to sound too sorry for ourselves.

We did pursue alternatives. Years before, when only the youngest boy was still at home, we called the college in town and located a couple of homeless students who came within a slice of bread and a turkey neck from eating us out of house and home. But they paid in full with their buoyant spirits. This time my wife checked the cupboards and refrigerator and told me to try it again. Too late.

Too late with friends and neighbors too. Too timid to drive through the streets and, in a Hollywood scenario, pick out at random a ragged guest or two. Too burned to plan on Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant: we had tried that before and learned that elegant decor and fine food do not necessarily make a Thanksgiving.

We passed the ball back and forth. Our parents? My wife objected. It wouldn't be right to invite ourselves on such short notice, and the trip here would be too hard on them.

November matured from its teens to its 20's, and we were no closer to a resolution. My wife would tell me to put the newspaper down or leave my typewriter alone or turn off the record player, and talk to her about it. We proposed, we discussed, we temporized.

We could try one of the social service agencies. Inquire at a home for the aged (it was the pre-Senior Citizen era). Check the churches, a children's home, the country farm. Any one of these sources could have led us to our unknown guest, but we did nothing. Later I realized why.

As I was leaving for the office the morning before Thanksgiving my wife asked if I had decided what we should do.

''Me decide? I thought you had already decided. You haven't said anything about it in the last couple of days.''

''I suppose it's too late to ask anyone.''

The forecasts were for rain changing to snow. Thanksgiving would be a good day to take things easy. ''Don't go to a lot of trouble,'' I said.

So that's how we came to be sitting, in the den, across a card table from each other, dressed as if expecting company on that snowy Thanksgiving Day afternoon. As usual the table had been laid with the traditional cloth, an embroidered linen that had belonged to my wife's grandmother. The good china, the silver place settings, a single white candle, a roasted chicken somewhat grander than a robin, mashed potatoes and gravy, a red thing called cranberry surprise, salted nuts, mints and a shrimp cocktail to start things off. It was all there, obviously planned well in advance.

On the radio the Bach Magnificatm was just audible from Detroit. We recalled other holidays at the dining room table, remembering the laughter, the anxious surveillance of the turkey that offered only two drumsticks, the spilled gravy, the after-dinner mints that disappeared before dinner was fairly begun, and on to the growing-up years when chairs were vacated early in favor of dates, football games, skis.

It was not our best Thanksgiving, but it was one of the most memorable - memorable because we forgave ourselves our selfishness and enjoyed our aloneness , grateful for the peace and intimacy of a special Thanksgiving Day that belonged to us alone. We had shared with others in the past; we would do so again. This, we had found, was for us.

''You wanted this all along,'' I told her. ''I, too.''

She leaned across and kissed my cheek. ''I'm thankful I have such a nice husband.''

I silently gave thanks for the persistence of my wife's dear delusion and wished her a very Happy Thanksgiving.