Please pass a heaping dish of generosity
We could use more holidays like Thanksgiving, I think. No religious agenda, no overpriced bundles under a tree that has been situated, about as sensibly as a fire hydrant, in a corner of the living room, no flag waving or fireworks, or street fairs that tie up downtown.
Thanksgiving is relief from all that -- a day when little more is expected than mashed potatoes minus the lumps, marshmallows nicely oozing on top of the yams, turkey and brown gravy, and a slab of homemade apple pie with, or without, cheddar cheese, your choice.
The holiday's simplicity is its greatest attribute. Expectations are perfectly aligned with purpose. No one will be off in a corner pouting because the new iPhone is not the gold model anticipated, nor will the person in charge of family finances be contemplating life as a fugitive in the mountains of Idaho.
Aside from an admirable sense of scale, Thanksgiving deserves praise for its generous spirit. It is a national day without the endless rancor of recent times. You favor Obamacare and your brother-in-law, the Tea Party guy, thinks we are about an inch away from becoming Greece. Who cares? Pass the stuffing, if you don't mind, and, hey, Aunt Sal, these are outstanding Parker House rolls. Excuse me, anyone else want that drumstick?
By late afternoon, everyone is in a state of advanced reverie, numbly remembering old times, the scores of ancient football games and the year Grandpa tried to make a clam casserole and lubricated the dish with Lestoil instead of Wesson by mistake. Let somebody else shut down the government and worry about the Gross National Product and Consumer Price Index. This is real life, for goodness' sake. And, you bet, I'll have another couple spoons of succotash.
Way back when, we would troop over to Aunt Edna's for the big day. She lived in a little apartment with her husband, Uncle Jim, a good guy who worked as a business rep on the waterfront and, we learned, so aggravated the mob with his honesty that they put out a hit, but then thought better of it, who knows why? Another reason to give thanks.
Aunt Edna, who had a job on Wall Street as one of the first female account agents -- "customer's men," as they were called -- was as adept in the kitchen as on the horn with a client. Not only turkey and fixings did she whip up, but a big pot of marinara sauce simmered for hours with spareribs and served over spaghetti. Mom would bring maybe some crabmeat au gratin in those big scallop shells as an appetizer. There was so much food the table could have been propped up with cinder blocks.
These were the days when adults pounded back a Manhattan or Whiskey Sour or Old Fashioned just by way of setting up the palate. By mealtime, the mood was mellow and the wisecracks better than Milton Berle's. Well-off or barely making it, Irish Catholic or German Lutheran, Republican or Democrat, we were going to have a splendid time together because that's what you do on Thanksgiving -- Americans, one and all.
But let's say this: Generosity is an art when attempted year round. There's a knack to it -- a special selflessness that assures good works without expectation of thanks.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving and gratitude, I will mention here a recent dinner my wife, Wink, and I had with friends from out east.
Brigitte and Anthony are regular folks, no big bucks, but hard wired to perform random acts of kindness -- and that doesn't even include feeding the deer in the woods behind their house, or adopting the puppy offered by a rescue unit at the local pet store. Once, for instance, they spotted a woman needing assistance at the side of the road. She was broke and so was her car. Our friends got the heap to a garage and paid for the repair. No questions asked.
It will be no surprise that people of this caliber have a tough time taking a bow. But, as conversation went along, we heard a story for the first time.
One winter, Anthony, who works in the city, began worrying about a homeless man to whom he often gave small amounts of cash. Forecasts were for severe weather. Where would the poor fellow go when the storm hit?
Without much discussion, it was decided: To a hotel! On our friends! Money was pressed into the hand of a no doubt astonished recipient. The storm came. The homeless man was not on the street. Where he spent the night, Brigitte and Anthony don't know for sure -- maybe the hotel, maybe not.
Makes no difference. This was what the moment demanded, said the couple, a lesson learned at Sunday services and taken to heart.
Really, we said, you're the greatest.
Our friends looked baffled. Isn't this what you're supposed to do?
Well, sure, we said, but . . .
No buts, they insisted. None whatsoever.
Some people are like that. Every day, they pass the candied yams and always let someone else grab the drumstick.