Kathy and I spent Thanksgiving Day is rather uncommon fashion. First of all, it was uncommon in that all of the Bergs were together on a major holiday- which has not happened in a long long time. (The last time we were all together in the same room was just over two years ago, when we were all in Madison for my dad’s 75th birthday. And the last time we managed it on a major holiday has been swallowed up in the foggy mists of ancient history.) So the simple fact that we were all together on Thanksgiving Day was noteworthy and exciting. One of the reasons we went out of our way to get together was so we could celebrate my brother Nathan’s 40th birthday (which is actually Monday, the 30th) – which we did so with a little midday brunch. (I use the term “little” rather lightly, because Sonja and Steve scarcely know the meaning of that term when it comes to special meals.) So that gave us one more reason to celebrate.
Then there was the extraordinary meal in which we partook that evening. . . a Thanksgiving feast that had to be seen to be believed. It’s a gigantic Thanksgiving potluck which happens every year in the home of a dear friend of Matt and Randi’s. . . a gifted photographer named David who will be their neighbor once they have moved into their spectacular new home in the country. (They bought the land from him.) Every year, David opens up his home to a group of friends and friends of friends. . . and it has grown to number right around 100 people. The tradition actually began in someone else’s home, and was one of those lovely gathering of “strays” – people who would otherwise be on their own – but it became such a spectacularly good time that more and more people joined up, purposefully choosing it rather than settling for it as a last resort. Eventually it outgrew its original home, which is why David offered his house in the country as the new location. So David sets up long tables that essentially fill up every inch of his sizable living room – and the kitchen ends up being filled end to end with a spectacular array of appetizers, salads, side dishes, desserts. . . and in the midst of it all are two gigantic and perfectly prepared turkeys, plus delicious ham for those who prefer that to turkey.
But before it all begins, David gathers everyone together in one gigantic circle. . . although with a group this size and in a room filled with tables, it wasn’t a circle as much as the outline of a huge amoeba . . . and he says a few words about the occasion and invites people to enjoy a few moments of silent reflection on all they have to be thankful for. Truly lovely.
And then we ate and ate and ate. And it was good. Very very good. I will say that it felt a little bit odd to be amidst so many complete strangers on an occasion like Thanksgiving – a holiday which celebrates family as much as anything – and we were elbow to elbow and eating off of unfamiliar plates, and confronted with all kinds of delicacies which we’d never laid eyes on before. I don’t mean the turkey or the mashed potatoes, of course, and other well- known fare. But much of what people brought were intriguing things I’d never seen before and will probably never seen again – which was a fun adventure. . . but again, very different from the comfortable familiarity of more typical Thanksgivings where almost everything on your plate is exactly what was on your plate the year before- and the year before that. But again, that made this something of an adventure and one which Kathy and I actually enjoyed more than we thought we would. (As my siblings are quick to point out to anyone who asks, Kathy and I are not especially adventurous souls. Consequently, I went into this fearing that the main course would be some sort of vegan tofu loaf, served with a brussel sprout/ portabello mushroom casserole, and parsnip pie for dessert. Boy, was I wrong about that. We were surrounded by deliciousness at every turn.)
As I look back on that meal, I do think about the food itself – and the bracing “newness” of it all – but more than anything I think about the amazing generosity of the man who opens his house year after year to this onslaught, and does so happily. It is a reminder that there is more than one way to celebrate this holiday . . . and for as tempting as it is to cloak one’s self in everything familiar, right down to Aunt Bertha’s cranberry relish recipe, this holiday is also about opening one’s doors to the rest of the world. . . at the very least in remembering those less fortunate than we are and trying to do something to help them . . . and maybe even stepping outside of one’s comfort zone from time to time and sharing a meal with strangers- strangers who might become new friends.
Isn’t that what that first Thanksgiving gathering was all about?
pictured above: a portion of the throng enjoying Thanksgiving dinner together. The table closest to the camera includes, left to right: Scott (my brother Steve’s partner) Matt (my sister Randi’s husband) , my brother Nathan , Sonja (my dad’s wife) and my dad.