No sitting in a long line of traffic at Logan for one pickup, no swinging by South Station for another. No Wednesday-night stop for Chinese food. No morning Wild Turkey Five-Mile Run through Salem. No reunion with my brothers and sister. No 10 a.m. kickoff at a windswept high-school football field a quarter-mile from the Atlantic. No second helpings of Jell-o mold at Aunt Cindy’s. No sampling of the apple pie made from my mother’s recipe. No snoozy afternoon on the billowy couch. No Black Friday hunter-gatherer mission to Marshall’s.
No real Thanksgiving.
For all these years when I was living away — in Buffalo, in Washington, in Pittsburgh — I was also living a Perry Como song: “Home for the Holidays.” For me and our family, three-quarters of whom were born without Boston accents — who were reared in places where the figure 13,909 — the capacity crowd of the old Boston Garden — held no special meaning and who didn’t know how many cookies did Andrew eat — home for this particular holiday of Thanksgiving nonetheless meant Boston.
Not this year. Not this Thanksgiving.
The coronavirus has wrecked so much — so many lives lost, so many routines and normal rhythms disrupted — that grief over breaking well-loved traditions for this special holiday, secular and yet spiritual and of course rooted in Massachusetts, might otherwise be considered, at worst, an inconvenience. My father and uncle spent World War II Thanksgivings in the Pacific. Many of my friends spent Thanksgivings in Saigon, a few in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the victims of COVID-19 is perspective. A turkey for just the two of us, far from the Boston area, is a small price to pay for safety, and surely a smaller price than others have paid for freedom and the very values that are the underpinning of an American Thanksgiving.
And yet Thanksgiving was the one time we four siblings — all but my sister Cindy now with graying or receding hair — saw each other. It was the one time no one complained about getting up early when there was no school or work, the one time when no one was on a diet, when no one was breaking up or breaking down, when no one made fun of Dad for picking out the pecans in the pecan rolls, when no demurred when Mom suggested a late-afternoon stroll to walk off the calories. Every year, cousins Billy and Natalie brandished the turkey legs that no one else wanted. Every year, daughter Elizabeth from San Francisco and her friend Ivana from Switzerland — adopted for so many Thanksgivings that she might as well have been on the family cell-phone plan — retreated from the Dallas football game on television for long afternoon conversations. Every year, we told the story about my Montreal grandmother, who thought Americans were daft for having a huge meal in the middle of a Thursday afternoon in November.
Every year, we took the picture for the December holiday card in that late November interlude. Every year, I spent a breakfast hour or two solving the world’s problems, or talking about Donald Trump, with Mike Harrington and Jim Shannon, two former congressmen from Massachusetts.
And every year I entered the stands for the Swampscott-Marblehead game. I’ve been to 54 of them, none more memorable than in 1969, when a junior placekicker booted a game-winning field goal with 1:02 remaining to give Swampscott a 15-14 victory. (You know him as a onetime Channel 5 sportscaster with a special love of high school games. I know him as Mike Lynch, whose family has intersected with mine for six decades.) A few years ago, I sat in the stands beside the father of a talented wide receiver wearing the Swampscott uniform. How could I know that my chilled bleacher companion would someday be known as Governor Charlie Baker? (I may have spent 40 years writing about politics —10 as the Globe’s Washington bureau chief, a position I accepted during the Thanksgiving break in 1992 — but that Thanksgiving morning I was more interested in catching up with my high school friend Billy Mishkin than in talking about Bay State politics.)
This year we are not doing the things we did every year.
This year we are a family dispersed for a holiday disrupted. We will connect over the Internet and we will try to convince ourselves that that is enough in a year of dispersal and disruption. And maybe it will be. This year it will have to be. And we will call Uncle Jeff and Aunt Robin, and Uncle Peter and Aunt Beth, there on the North Shore, where we ought to be.
But each year, during the Thanksgiving meal presided over by Uncle Bob, we went around the table and cited one thing for which we were thankful. Sometimes it was friendship, always it was family.
Thanksgiving. Giving thanks. Not being home for the holidays, this year I’m substituting Shirley Ross and Bob Hope for Perry Como. Their 1938 song bore a title appropriate for our 2020 holiday. It was called “Thanks for the Memory.”
David M. Shribman, previously the Washington bureau chief for the Globe, is executive editor emeritus of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.