I had really been looking forward to Turkey Day this year. It was sad on the one hand because the Mrs. and I would be spending it without the kids and grand kids for the first time. They are all scattered around the globe doing their thing and Christmas is the earliest any of us will be together again as any kind of a family. But, on the other hand, what I was looking forward to was the company of friends, who had invited us to spend the day with them up their mile long driveway in what we call a “cove”, up in The Blue Ridge. A special guest was going to be there and I couldn’t wait to meet him.
It didn’t go at all as we expected.
The special guest was the father of my friend. Now, well into his 80’s, he had been a “Borscht Belt” comedian in the heydays of the old “Jewish Alps” He had appeared in theaters, resorts, famous, (and sometimes not so famous) night clubs, and on television. He was on Johnny Carson’s “TONIGHT SHOW” numerous times, plus “THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW”, MERV GRIFFIN, and even had a weekly show of his own on very early TV.
“This morning the doorbell rang. I said ‘Who is it?’ He said ‘It’s the Boston strangler.’ I said ‘It’s for you dear!'”
I sat next to this gentleman with more stories and jokes in his head than I could even imagine and something truly horrible and absolutely human happened. As we passed around a plate of stuffed mushrooms and sipped our wine he began to tell a story. It all began beautifully until, like a scratched record, his mind jumped the groove and went back to what he had already told. Again and again this happened.
It wasn’t as if we didn’t know that he was old and his mind wasn’t as sharp as it once was, but, around the table last night it became obvious to his family and their guests that it wasn’t nearly as sharp as it was last week, or, even yesterday. When his son picked him up at the assisted living center that morning they had mentioned that he had been having a rough week, but, nothing prepared anyone for this. As the evening progressed it became obvious to us all that this once articulate and truly funny, funny man didn’t even know where he was. Dementia was progressing at a gallop and all anybody could do now was wait for it all to end.
It was Thanksgiving and the stories of what it was like to hang out with “The Three Stooges” were gone for ever. We wouldn’t hear how much fun it was to go out chasing women with Rodney Dangerfield, or, what Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner and Jonathan Winters were like before they hit the big time. It was all gone. His eyes appeared to be as empty as the rooms of the famous resorts that once dotted Sullivan County, New York. The Concord, Grossinger’s, Tamarack Lodge, The Nevele, Browns, Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club….. All gone today. All history.
We were very quiet on the drive home. I got to thinking about the Thanksgiving “thing”. The whole long list of “things” we are all to be so thankful for suddenly seemed so absurd to me, so temporary, so transient. We sit down at our respective tables and give thanks to who? Somebody remind me again. Am I supposed to thank fate, or, some God that my mind isn’t yet coming apart at the seams, or, that it is someone else and not me who is starving, or, has cancer? To who, or what, do I address my thanks that I wasn’t born in a place where there is no food to eat. While I’m busy doing that and passing the stuffing how do I forget the simultaneous horror and pain that accompany good fortune as closely as heads does tails on a dime? How do I forget that time makes losers of us all and that one day the short straw will belong to all of us? Is that what all the booze is for and if so, how the hell do any of us ever get home?
I remembered an old saying that my grandmother used to come out with…. “Better to die 10 years too early than 10 minutes too late.” … And I understood it like I never did before.
“I told my doctor, ‘This morning when I got up and saw myself in the mirror, I looked awful! What’s wrong with me?’ He replied, ‘I don’t know, but your eyesight is perfect!”
I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. Turkey usually doesn’t work like that. Turkey usually knocks you out cold after a big Thanksgiving meal. I just lay in bed looking up at the ceiling thinking about the absurdity of this life of ours and I remembered that guy who ate a dozen oysters on the night of his honeymoon because he had heard that they were aphrodisiacs and how terribly disappointed he was the next morning when only three of them worked.