We sat in my familys living room, watching the motorcade float over our small portable televisions screen. Gathered about me in an intense and silent atmosphere were my father and brothers. We watched the exhausted newscasters going over every detail time and again; saw the grieving, yet regal, widow with her famous pillbox hat gone. The president of the United States was dead, and many thought that we were hurtling into World War III.
There wasnt much joy as Mom sat the turkey on the table and called us to dinner. For the first time in my young memory, my teen-age brothers were totally silent as they shoveled the small mounds of turkey dressing into their mouths. Dad gave my mom a sympathetic look; squeezing her hand softly as if to say Dont worry, it will be all right.
John Sullivan wasnt so sure everything would be all right in 1967 when he arrived in Vietnam. Now, more than 30 years later, this former Marine is sure of what he ate that Thanksgiving. He was not fortunate enough to be in the rear, so he didnt partake in the official menu and took dinner out of his C rations.
I watch the smoke from his cigarette float past his fingers as he tells of the Pall Malls that usually had already turned green from age when you pulled them from the rations. He explains how he would take the piece of pound cake from its tin container, melt the little bar of chocolate to drizzle over the cake, and make a desert that was almost like home. But he was one of the lucky guys - he still had rations.
My mother would tell of how she walked to the nearby grocery store to buy dinner for Thanksgiving, 1933. What she returned with were two fish and a loaf of bread. Her father had just lost his job at a nearby sawmill, and what little money they had was being held tight. As she set dinner in front of her father, he took her hand and remarked, encouragingly, that Jesus had fed the multitudes on two fish. There in that kitchen, lit by only a small lamp on the table, she vowed that one day she would set a feast in front of her family. Her thoughts, as it happened, were prophetic.
I remember watching a film a few years ago of soldiers during Thanksgiving in Korea, 1952. Of all the horrors these men endured, the one memory that survives most is the bitter cold. It was a no-win situation. If they built fires, they could be shot to death; if they didnt they could be found frozen to death. As a result, many ate cold food from frozen mess kits, and remembered turkey dinners at home in Cincinatti, Atlanta, and other points west.
lways, my grandmother had hanging in her living room a tapestry given to her by some relative long ago. It was a scene of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. His hands were clasped atop a large rock, his face turned despondently upward into what seemed a ray of light depicted by metallic gold threads worked into the cloth. I was amazed at how the tapestry was perpetually there, fading, and yet its ray of light glittered. As a child, I knew the tapestry would always be there, as if waiting for me.
Waiting for me also was the real meaning and intent of this season. Perhaps Abraham Lincoln knew that the nation needed a day to take inventory for its own good once in a while when he declared a day of Thanksgiving. Maybe he intended that each person would take a mouthful of reality, contemplate it along with past memories, and be able to swallow it; no matter how rough or tough it was.
This is the season when we compare our current situation against those worst of times and realize that no matter how bleak the images on the television screen, no matter how despondent the future seems, no matter how tough life currently is, there is this one factor that never changes: There is hope. Whether it is the nation torn apart by Civil War or the turbulence of the 60s, or the desperation of the Depression, or the horror and anger caused by Vietnam, or the unprecedented annihilation of innocent lives on Sept. 11, 2001, none of it can change that one fact - there is hope.
And, like the faded tapestry on my grandmothers wall, it will always be there; sometimes seeming pale, but never changing and always glittering.
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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