Friday, November 24, 2006
When my niece. Kristin, was little, she used to talk about Turkey Lurkey, a kind of Thanksgiving counterpart to the Great Pumpkin, who would give candy and toys to all the children.
She may have borrowed the name from the Chicken Little tale, but the gift-giving character sounds like her idea.
I remember the first year she told me about Turkey Lurkey and the following year I asked to tell me the story again. She started to do just that, but stopped suddenly.
"I told you this last year," she said, sounding a little confused.
Yes, she did, but I loved hearing it. The story, and her unique way of telling it, is one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories.
That was many years ago. Kristin is now a freshman in college and Turkey Lurkey is no more. And instead of a big family get-together, I spent a good portion of this Thanksgiving Day on the subway.
My sister and I started our day heading out to Coney Island to visit my dad in the nursing home. I had planned to hop the N train, but my sister very wisely suggested we crack down and take car service.
Given Thursday's god-awful weather and the fact that we would have to trudge into Manhattan to have dinner with my aunt later that day, I think that was a pretty good idea.
We got to the nursing and went up to the 7th floor to see our father. He was in the day room, or the land of lost souls, as I call it in my darker moments. We had his meal brought down to his room so we could sit with him while he ate.
As he lay in bed waiting for the food, my father told us he disliked his roommate his roommate, a poor bastard in a wheelchair and breathing from a tank of oxygen. He was convinced the guy was my mom's brother-in-law, Leon, whom he hated, but my sister assured him that Leon has been dead for four years.
It didn't matter. My dad is convinced Leon was responsible for putting him in the nursing home, even though we told him the doctor put him there.
"Leon was whispering in the doctor's ear," my father said.
Makes sense to me. The guy comes back from the dead to make sure my father gets stuck out in Coney Island. Oh, those golden years.
We didn't dare tell him we were having dinner with Leon's wife, Marie, also known as my mother's sister, whom the old man didn't like either. So we lied, as usual, and told him we were having dinner with his sister.
His meal arrived and it was hardly a vast Thanksgiving feast. The menu slip said this stuff was turkey, squash and green beans, but I just saw three piles of some alien substances that would never be mistaken for food.
Riding the Rails
Because of the stroke, the food has to be pureed and the liquids have to be thickened to a point where they're almost sludge. Otherwise there could be a danger of my father choking.
My father kept offering us his "food" and I pretended to like it, but, honestly, it was pretty awful. I reminded him of the old Thanksgivings we used to have at his sister Loretta's house, way up on 205th Street in Manhattan. All that food, all that company, all those people who are long since gone or grown so old.
He's coming home in less than a week and every day I feel a little more frightened. I want him to be happy, but I don't we have the skills or the resources to take care of him at home. He is so frail, physically and mentally.
We'll have to hire more people, spend more of his money, and I'll have to be a virtual prisoner. I don't think I can do it, but I'll worry about that next week. It's still a holiday weekend, right?
It was getting late so we wheeled my father out to the day room and I kissed him said I'd see him on Sunday. He said something that sounded like "what about you, Robert?" I told him I was leaving.
As we were walking to get our coats, my sister told me what my father had actually said: "I love you, Robert."
I don't think he's ever said that to me directly, at least not in years, and I felt like such a dirtbag, wanting to get out of there, wanting to leave him there for good. I started crying and told my sister I had to go back to the day room after we got our coats. This time I got it right.
"I love you, Dad," I said, and kissed him again.
On the way out, we ran into Sister Pauline, a nun from our neighborhood, whose mother is a resident there. Sister Pauline's mom is closing in on 100 and, though she's in a wheelchair, her mind is still sharp. She was talking to her son in Pittsburgh on a cell phone and after handing the phone back to her daughter, she turned to us.
"I remember cooking all those meals on Thanksgiving," she said, "and all those good times are gone."
Yes, so I guess the only answer is to enjoy the good times while you have them. We left the nursing home and went by Nathan's on the way to the train station. It was open and there were handful of people inside. I wondered what their stories were, why they were here on this day dedicated to families and togetherness.
If I were a feature writer or a columnist, I would have walked in there and interviewed of them. But I'm a business reporter, so we got on board the N train, and made it to my aunt's place in about an hour.
It was just the three of us, eating turkey and drinking prosecco, my favorite wine. I found it hard not to think of those old Thanksgivings with all those people. They're being picked off, like some murder mystery.
But the point of the day is to be thankful and if you pick up a newspaper and see what's going on in other parts of the world, you can feel pretty small when you complain about your own problems.
So, for the record, I am very thankful for all I have. I'm going to need a great deal of strength in the coming months and memories of the good times I had with my family are an excellent source of emotional octane.
And may Turkey Lurkey stop by your house and shower you with gifts, candy, and memories that will last a lifetime.