I ordered a turkey from a real butcher, bought my (now prized and tattered) copy of James Beard’s American Cookery, and planned a menu. I copied recipes out and tacked them to the wall of our little kitchen that might have made a ship’s galley seem spacious.
More of our friends heard about our plans and dropped hints that they’d be alone on Thanksgiving too. The guest list soon grew from 3 to 12. I didn’t know it then, but Lenny and I were beginning a tradition that I cherished until the day he died.
Our little apartment, spacious by Manhattan standards but a mere postage stamp for the average American, grew into a holiday home-away-from-home for a ragtag collection of rejects from the heartland. And from elsewhere!
Hilda was a 90-year-old former Austrian Jewish refugee who’d outlived the little bit of family she had left.
Harold was a 60-year-old gay man who’d never settled down after he slunk into the City 30 years before, rejected by a family that didn’t like his “lifestyle.”
Blossom was our next-door neighbor, a serious woman who traveled the world taking photos. She wrote beautiful poetry and loudly disdained the need for a man in her life.
Mistress Carla did NOT come in drag, though he’d talked about it. David came. Just plain, missing-his-children David.
And Brad? He was my friend. A beautiful boy of 20 from a working-class village north of Albany. His family wanted nothing to do with a young man who made his living stripping in gay clubs. I guess it never occurred to them that he was a stippper because of their lack of love.
I put way too much spice in the pumpkin pie and the stuffing. The turkey breast was dry, and the skin wasn’t crisp. But you know what? It all tasted great. Brad and I snagged the drumsticks, Hilda treated us to real champaign after dinner, and the 14 of us listened to the Beatles and Frank Sinatra late into the evening, glowing in the warmth of cinnamon candles, true friendship, created family, and a spirit of thankfulness kindled from genuine human connection.
We’d all be back together again in a month. Because of course I decided to do Christmas too. Oysters, beef rib roast and all the trimmings. And when Easter rolled around? I remember white asparagus, fiddlehead ferns and something I did with a leg of lamb that didn’t really work out. But we didn’t care!