The last Thanksgiving of my childhood started out promisingly enough. It was 1969, and we were going to my parents' best friends' house. I had a crush on their second oldest son, and with luck (a lot of it), we'd end up in his room listening to Led Zeppelin. He was much cooler than I was, but I was who would be there on Thanksgiving.
The minute we got inside the door, it was clear that something big was going on. The oldest son had come home from college, his freshman year, with a new girlfriend. That wasn't really unusual; he always had a girlfriend. But the girlfriend, who was a sophomore (I was very impressed that she was older), also was pregnant. This was a very big deal.
No one even tried to talk behind our backs, which was a measure of how upsetting this all was. They even let my younger brother listen in — so it would be seared into his brain, I think.
The would-be parents would hear nothing of the idea that they should go to "Puerto Rico." They didn't want to go to Puerto Rico, and I figured out very quickly that Puerto Rico was not a euphemism for abortion (this was before Roe v. Wade) but was where she could go to get one.
They wanted to get married instead.
The grown-ups drank a lot.
The soon-to-be grandfather, my father's friend, kept talking about how he didn't want to see his son ruin his life. What was he supposed to do, he asked my father, just sit by silently while his son gave up on everything?
And I will always remember what my father said. "You put your arms around him." He said it over and over that day to his friend: "Put your arms around him." Right or wrong. Talk to him. Give him your best advice. And then, whether or not he listens to you, you put your arms around him.
I remember feeling very safe that day amid the chaos of the "other" family — safe because my sister wasn't pregnant and my father wasn't ranting, and most of all, safe because my father was so wise and loving and right.
I didn't know it was the last Thanksgiving of my childhood, one of the last times I would ever feel safe inside my family. You never know those kinds of things. I didn't know that my parents would split up and divorce hostilely, or that my father was better at giving advice than following it. I didn't know that doom and gloom lay ahead — financial troubles, sickness and, in not very many years, my father's death.
The thing about precious moments is that most of the time you have no idea how precious they really are until much later. And then you can only wish that you had savored them a little more, held on tighter, locked that feeling away so that it wouldn't be lost.
The couple got married. They had the baby. They got divorced. Not amicably, I heard. They were just kids; we knew that. Then my father died, and my mother moved, and I stopped hearing. But when I think of Thanksgiving and the holidays and that day long ago, I can almost feel my father's arms around me.
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