Thursday, November 23, 2023

Thanksgiving blessings abound; be grateful, loving, generous all year

Gratitude comes in family size for Christene "Cookie" Meyers, in center, surrounded by
her clan of siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, adopted family and the next generation.


Editor's Note: Our annual Thanksgiving essay is dedicated to
Cookie and Grandpa Gus
on Thanksgiving Day, 1950.
(Gus is amused at Cookie's
attempt to open a bottle
of Coke with bare hands.)
American friends and family and extended clan and pals abroad who celebrate their thanks on other days.



(and from family archives)

Yesterday is done, See the pretty countryside
Merrily we roll along, roll along, Bursting with dreams...
Traveling’s the fun, Flashing by the countryside
Everybody merrily, merrily, Catching at dreams
From Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along, in revival at Hudson Theatre, New York City, a story about friendship, change, loyalty, loss and gratitude. The three characters are a composer, playwright and theater critic.

WE SANG "Over the River and Through the Woods" years ago, to please our grandmother Olive who taught us the melody and lyrics. Today I'm humming Sondheim, whose musical, "Merrily We Roll Along," I saw during its short original run in 1981 and recently in a splendid revival. Perhaps it was ahead of its time, as director Hal Prince said 40 years ago. Now it is receiving raves and I know why. It's a story about love and enduring friendship. We need friends and family now more than ever, so celebrate them and let them know.

We give thanks for our family, gathered to
celebrate at our late summer wedding.
I think of Gran Olive and the lessons she passed on. Thanksgiving came on the heels of her Nov. 19 birthday, so it was an extension of that -- a bonus time to play music, Scrabble, cribbage and pinochle, to visit, cook together, gossip and feast.
Thanksgiving aboard Celebrity Century, with niece
Amarylla, mum Ellen, sister Robbie, and Cookie.
Friends were invited -- "strays," as gran called them. That included the Catholic priest, widowed neighbors, a favorite teacher -- divorced and alone -- and later college and newspaper friends whose families lived on the other side of the country.
Cookie entertains on cruise
ships, often during the
Thanksgiving holidays.

MY GRANDPARENTS lived next door, so we didn't have far to go -- not "over the river" or "through the wood" but "down the steps and across the grass," our revised lyric. We were lucky to grow up with grandpa
Bruce Keller and Christene
"Cookie" Meyers in 2007,
celebrating Thanksgiving
at a Cuban restaurant.
rents.  Having two homes was a luxury and our
 grandparents' plant and antique-filled house was safe haven from the tumult of our own hectic digs.
But there was joy in the chaos of our home, and I miss the holiday activity -- rehearsing in the music room for our traditional after-dinner concert, the wallop of ping pong paddles and balls in the garage game room, the milkman's faithful trudge up the back steps bringing  beverages, cheeses 
One of Gran's beautiful tables.
and butter right into the kitchen. I remember the reassuring slap of the morning paper against the front door, cats jumping on our beds to awaken us, dogs bringing their favorite fetch toys, fish to feed, plants to water, phone calls from those who couldn't make it.
OUR PARENTS would chat and tease, making appetizers and drinks for their open house. Next door, grandpa Gus whistled "Red River Valley" while helping gran Olive stuff and tie the the bird.
We relished that alluring smell of turkey roasting, pumpkin pies baking, her famous mincemeat cookies cooling. I was in charge of setting several tables in the dining room, living room and kitchen-- two or three small ones for the kids. Granddad carved after sharpening his knife on a slick black stone.
Cookie and Keller on Thanksgiving Day at 
Malta's Blue Lagoon. Thanksgiving tradition
now is a trip somewhere for these travel writers.

Then, a weekend of leisurely prepared leftovers, including gran's famous "Turkey Wiggle." Everyone raided the frig for sandwiches -- turkey, cranberry, mayonnaise, lettuce, cheese, stuffing, sweet potatoes and pear chutney. Tupperware with green and black olives, radishes, dill pickles, cucumber chips.
IT ALL SEEMS very Norman Rockwell, a "Father Knows Best" recollection.  Naturally, our lives were more complex than that. There were arguments, losses,

At left, Thanksgiving for Keller and Cookie is usually on the road, here in the Bellagio, on the Las Vegas strip.
disappointments, illness, sorrow. As I grew older, married and embarked on my newspaper career, there were more empty chairs at the family's home table. The loss of two husbands, three siblings, parents and grandparents has changed my holidays. For Keller and me, Thanksgiving means a trip somewhere. Siblings and friends are scattered across the U.S., so as our Thanksgivings split into smaller groups, not one massive gathering as in days of yore, we hit the road.
THIS THANKSGIVING, we're exploring in Kauai. We'll soon be relaxing with my Georgia sister and brother-in-law, meeting a pair of great nephews, enjoying our 
Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie"
Meyers, thankful for theater.
southern family. I'm thankful for memories -- corny, sentimental, glorified by time, knighted by my affection for those departed and still on Earth.
SO LET US CELEBRATE friendships and family, those old and deep bonds with people we may not see or talk to except on holidays, but hold dear in our hearts and memories.   
We're thankful to be fit enough to exercise, walk, travel, explore the world. We're thankful for our recent honeymoon to Europe, and the hope that we have many traveling years ahead.

NOW, BOTH Keller and I are orphans, the senior members of our families -- his small one and my giant, scattered clan. We miss our elders, and sometimes don't feel ready for our positions.
This photo is from Thanksgiving 2021: We'll be back in
Atlanta soon to celebrate with David and Misha
Minesinger, Georgia based sister and brother-in-law. 
Our friends feel the same -- all miss their families and carry sentimental memories of
Thanksgiving on the Napali Coast, 2022.
Give thanks for the beauty of nature.  

Thanksgiving Day. Although I've not been a regular church goer for decades, I always play this wonderful old Dutch hymn on the nearest piano -- whether on a ship, or a host's home
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing; Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.
FOR ALL our blessings, I am thankful: health, travel, music, nature, friends, family. In my heart,  I have Thanksgiving 365 days a year.

Richmond's Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond,
Yorkshire, is England's longest running theater, dating
to 1899, with a few years of silence during the war
and when the building served other purposes. It is
beautifully restored and a grand, popular venue.

UP NEXT: Richmond's Theatre Royal is the oldest still operational theater in England, a charming, small venue where regular performances and concerts are held as they have been since 1899.  Known officially as the Georgian Theatre Royal, it opened with "As You Like It" and continues to offer classical works, concerts and a variety of productions including a recent sold-out presentation of  "The Buddy Holly Story." We sat for a few minutes in the "Royal Box" where we admired the stage and house of the country's oldest working theatre in its original form. It is both a thriving community playhouse and a living theater museum. Remember to explore, learn, live!