With Americans being urged from the powers-that-be to “keep Thanksgiving small” this exhausting year, many no doubt find themselves in a weird position.
Many folks have always celebrated an epic Thanksgiving. A harbinger of the holidays to come, a feast that is like a flare gun going off — ready, set go.
Thanksgiving always makes me think of the classic Steve Martin comedy “Planes, Trains, & Automobiles,” also starring the late, great John Candy, who is as hilarious as he is heartbreaking. (Word out of Hollywood is that a remake is in the works — of course; good luck with that.) I heard about the legendary Thanksgiving-induced traffic my whole life, both on the radio and out of the mouths of relatives who were combating it either to get to my childhood home or to get out of it. But “Planes” gave me the real insight, zany theatrics and implausible snafus aside.
This being the case, maybe many are embracing the notion of staying put, avoiding the stand-still traffic and the mad dashes to train platforms. Maybe all they needed all these years was some authority to give them a free pass from family, friends, and food.
Some might even be using this directive as an excuse to get out of a family get-together that they weren’t too keen on to begin with, much to the chagrin of their significant other, the latest in a year full of squabbles, divorce at an all-time high in the age of COVID. (Yes — seemingly one can hire movers, get two-to-six of their besties to help them box up their belongings, and move miles away; just so they can’t go miles away to “pass the stuffing” and have a socially-distanced Thanksgiving.)
When I was a kid, chaos was actually what the day was all about. My mother dressed us in clothes that literally begged for cranberry sauce stains, and dirt too, as if she was oblivious that an annual Nerf football game was taking place while we were all outside, with second, third and fourth cousins all colliding. And then everyone was at the “kid’s table” afterwards to request second, third, and fourth servings of turkey. We were a graceless lot who’d say grace and dig in.
We’d all be completely stuffed and out of gas by late in the afternoon and that’s when we’d gather ‘round the TV set to watch WPIX. Not football; we had a tradition of watching Channel 11’s annual airing of “King Kong” and “Mighty Joe Young.” We ourselves were mighty young and this was our Thanksgiving for over 20 years, alternating between my house and my aunt’s, my mother’s sister. Great days indeed.
Surely, were we told one year not to spend Thanksgiving this way I’d imagine we’d have just ignored the suggestion. At the end of the day, ours was a small get-together, comparatively speaking. Less than 15, give or take.
But, say this did happen, and it wound up just being us at home for Thanksgiving: my parents and their four children. At the risk of coming off contradictory, I don’t think it would have been that bad. Not that bad at all. There surely would have been laughs, as there were always laughs. Usually someone took the brunt, and our dinner table was often referred to as a “Roast,” but everyone got their turn and it made for some truly uproarious mealtimes. (My late mother even purchased the entire collection of “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast,” his old ABC series, and we’d watch them and howl. Nothing was sacred.)
The Monopoly board would have definitely come out, if not Parcheesi or Chinese Checkers, the former being my late father’s favorite board game. He’d have bumped “King Kong” in favor of a “spaghetti western” starring Clint Eastwood, like “The Outlaw Josey Wales” or “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly,” and while groans would have greeted the credits, we’d have been all in. Heck, in retrospect, my family probably needed just one Thanksgiving for just us.
Maybe that is exactly why so many people get “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” frantic about getting home for Thanksgiving. For that “Roast” and that game of “Parcheesi” and some Clint on the tube. For the tradition of it all, with the size of the gathering no bigger than the one floating around my head right now. Steve Martin wasn’t on his way home to anything that enormous; he as simply on his way home. And John Candy...spoiler alert...he was on his way to nowhere.
This Thanksgiving, yours is somewhere. And, really, that’s all that matters.