Thanksgiving 1976. My son had just been born, we were living in Altadena and I was working in Pasadena at a restaurant known as The Chronicle. I had been working there a few months as a server. Dressed in a uniform (essentially a tuxedo outfit without the jacket, and was allowed to keep my hair and mustache). The main clientele, it seemed at the time, were wealthy and very conservative types. “Business and social elite”, I think it has been described as. The restaurant was mere miles from a John Birch Society office.Moderate conservatives were considered liberal in that neighborhood.
I remember working the restaurant the night Jimmy Carter was elected. We had just gone through the Bicentennial year, and Jerry Ford, who had stepped into office when Nixon was forced to resign, was running against Carter. But early on, with polling stations already closed on the East Coast, and this being dinnertime in California, we could already sense there was a change coming. The clientele were pretty upset by it and I could feel their anger and their fear. But I was young, had a new baby days away from being born and didn’t feel as wary about the future as the older establishment folks did. They had more to lose than me, I guess. I was glad for the change, always felt Jerry Ford had been thrust into a position that he really didn’t relish.
What I saw that day spoiled it for me ever going out on Thanksgiving. While I was away from my new family, I was serving other families. Fixed menu – turkey with all the trimmings. Usually a turkey per table with tables being parties of four or more.
I remember serving a bottle of Ridge. It was a Zinfandel, I think a Lytton Springs. Wonderful choice, an American wine with an American dish on a so very American holiday. It was all so perfect. But why weren’t the diners enjoying themselves? Were they still upset that Jimmy Carter had won? I remember hearing a man at the bar saying something to the effect that “the country would soon be done with that peanut farmer.” I recognized the man as a regular. Bad tipper. Bad hairpiece. He also would never look me in the eye, always mumbling to me, “son get me a pack of Winstons,” as he gulped his Old Fashioned’s in anticipation of a woman (wife? mistress?) who always kept him waiting at least 45 minutes.
All this to say this year I will spend the holiday with the family that wants to spend it with me. My wife Liz's family, who died in 2001, we will spend the day before Thanksgiving at her sister's house with her son's, my nephews. It is a tradition. I love them. And the actual day? We will go out to my other family, Kim’s dad and her family in the country. My son will probably be a no show, but if he does show that will be nice. I hope. But I have learned not to let hope string me out. See, I am older than I was in 1976, and while I am not bitter or stern or pissed off like those folks I served on Thanksgiving in 1976, I am realistic. I wasn’t home for my son’s first Thanksgiving. I was a no show. Maybe this is payback. Maybe it’s just another day.