The Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past

Scene One

The setting for Thanksgiving 2001: The Downing House in Englewood, CO, overlooking the Cherry Hills Golf Course where, at the 1960 U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer pulled off “probably the most famous come-from-behind win in golf history,” (www.about.com). This was once the home of Jerry and Martha Dell Lewis who, as I recall, moved here from the Lone Star State with their family in the 1980s, having made their money in Texas oil as well as other successful ventures. The parties they once threw here were fabled, bringing to mind the antics of the Count of Monte Cristo. These were lavish affairs with exotic animals (giraffes and monkeys, for instance)–the kind of stuff that makes bold headlines in newspaper’s social pages. And then, they gave it all up. They created a charitable organization and bequeathed their home to it.

Prior to my move to Colorado Springs, I was working in Denver and living on the Downing House property–in what was once the carriage house, to be exact–with a number of 20-somethings: singles, married couples, a mix of students, and volunteers in local youth outreach organizations. All had gone home for Thanksgiving (few who live in Colorado are native to the state). All had gone home save three of us: Teeq, something of a musician and chef; Albus, who had played football for Colorado State University and who had received his name long before anyone had ever head of the famous headmaster at Hogwarts; and myself, whose given-name and ethnicity (“Jeff” and “Caucasian”), admittedly, were on both accounts no where near as interesting as my two counterparts.

We three had been granted permission to use the kitchen and living room of the main house for our Thanksgiving celebration (just doing a little checking into the history of the house, it appears the scene of our Thanksgiving dinner in 2001 was also the set for a period scene from the Indie film Thomas and Sophie [see below]). Now, each of us had a role to play: Teeq, the chef of the three of us, was charged with cooking the turkey; I, who had become accustomed in college to throwing dinner parties, was to create two side dishes, one of which was whipped sweet potatoes with maple syrup and coconut (this was probably the first time I invented a recipe); and Albus? Albus set the table. To be fair, I think Albus also made Stove Top Stuffing. And, on second thought, this was definitely not the first time I created a recipe. No, the first time I created a recipe was a month or two prior when, for a community breakfast in the main house, I made lavender scones. Judging by the reaction of the 70-something neighbor Rosie (whose personality, I might add, is anything but) you’d thought I’d made the scones from algae. As my father or one of my uncles would put it, Rosie was a “real peach”, and the inflection in their voices would tell you verbal irony was being employed. Lavender scones, hit or miss, this sweet potato recipe was right on the money. As was the turkey. As was the stuffing. And so, on this Thanksgiving, three individuals whose backgrounds and stories couldn’t have been more unlike each other, became friends.

Thomas and Sophie, presumably, around the table that three other characters would find themselves on Thanksgiving Day in 2001 (the author remembers everything being in technicolor–especially the sweet potatoes).

Scene Two

Another Thanksgiving Day away from family, a thousand miles from home, but one spent with dear friends. The Greeks speak of four loves: storge (the love between those who live in close proximity to each other, as exists between family members), philia (the love between friends), eros (the loves between the sexes), and agape (the highest form of love: a self-sacrificial love, especially for the “unlovable”). The friendship that existed between us gathered this Thanksgiving was an instance of philia, and (I believe) a higher form of philia, at that. What humbles me to this day is just how strong the bond of our friendship was, considering that represented around the common table were a Christian, atheist, and sometimes agnostic/sometimes Deist. The laughter, the intellectual stimulation, and the depth of sharing that marked our years together were amongst the greatest gifts this life has to offer. Not a Thanksgiving goes by that I do not think of these noble souls, especially since the turkey recipe that I use down to this day was introduced to me on this Thanksgiving Day, almost ten years ago now.

Epilogue

I can’t help but think that these two scenes are a connection with the distant past, reaching back to the genesis of the Thanksgiving holiday when two vastly different peoples came together: Native Americans and the Pilgrims, two groups who couldn’t have been–on the surface–more distinct from each other in terms of ethnicity, philosophy, and religion. And yet they shared and were bonded together by a common concern for–and goodwill towards–each other. These thoughts seem particularly poignant to me this Thanksgiving Day when the ideological divide in the nation that birthed the Thanksgiving Holiday seems more and more desperate with each passing year. Now it seems, more than ever, the time for men of goodwill to renew these ties.

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