My Worst Thanksgiving

Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in 2018’s “The Green Book”

My worst Thanksgiving was in 1972. All things considered, my “worst” wasn’t so bad*. Still, I remember that Thanksgiving like no other.

A college student, I voted for the first time in 1972. It was also when I worked at Sears—then still a retail giant—in Fresno, California. Once Sears hired me, I figured I was fixed for a paycheck until graduation. Clueless about a store’s need to boost its staffing around the holidays, I was out of a job when Santa’s view of chimneys was in his sleigh’s side mirrors.

All I knew was that I wanted a job. Give me any hours!

How about working on the day before and the day after Thanksgiving? Give ‘em to me! In 1972, the minimum hourly wage was $1.60. More on holidays. Whoa!

And so, with the cost of college textbooks and paying my apartment’s heating bill, I hunkered down in Fresno to work. My family gathered up yonder in Sacramento—a three-hour drive from Fresno—for their Thanksgiving feast. I greedily punched the time clock. On the long, lonely Thursday, I prepared a Swanson’s frozen TV dinner for my, er, feast. Poor me. Continue reading →

Picture Perfect: on Giving Thanks for a Moment

On the day after 2013’s Thanksgiving, I took the picture* included with these thoughts. With our ubiquitous smart phones, we can create images anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. The stills and videos we take and take and take appear online, potentially viewed by millions—though more likely by a handful of family, friends, and accidental gawkers.

Most photos come and go. Most, even the so-called “viral” ones, have a shelf life that can be counted in days or weeks. Most don’t matter.

This picture mattered.


It’s my mother. My wife. Our dog.

Hannah, our beloved first golden retriever, would die a year later, at the advanced age (for her breed) of fourteen years. Mom, happily focused on a puzzle, had about nine months to live. She died the following August.

In this picture, Mom is grieving. Except that she’s not. Her husband of six-plus decades had died the year before. Dad’s insidious spiral into dementia spanned years. Like many spouses caring for a loved one with a progressive neurological illness, Mom’s deepest grief occurred while Dad continued to live. His death was a delayed, prayed-for blessing.

Still, in the photo, she’s a widow. Continue reading →

Have Yourself a Merry Little Fake Christmas!

According to my wife’s family tales, her younger brother once ruined the lives of many children. Likely around the year-end holidays, he announced to his classmates that Santa didn’t exist.


No Santa Claus?

These exploits took place in elementary school. My wife’s father was a Moravian pastor. Both parents, while mentioning Santa’s peculiar role in the gift-giving traditions, were honest from the get-go: Christmas was about Jesus’ birth. Olde St. Nick had little influence on their Christmas anticipation and celebration.

And yet what about other kids?

Many believed in Santa. With his elf minions and gallant reindeer, the North Pole’s #1 citizen was idolized. He was forever preparing for a late December globe-trotting trip to slip gifts beneath a well-lighted tree! Christmas notes were written: Santa Claus, North Pole. Soon, millions of cookies appeared on millions of plates, ready to welcome the hearty, hungry fellow!

Come, sweet Santa! Hurry, generous Santa!

Then along came little Dan. (Yeah, let’s use my brother-in-law’s actual name.) Continue reading →