Those Who Can't Be With Us On Thanksgiving

The son or daughter who can't get away. A nephew who is serving in Afghanistan. Perhaps, the favorite aunt who passed away. Guest host John Donvan talks with listeners about the people missing from their Thanksgiving table, and how they remember absent family and friends.

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JOHN DONVAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm John Donvan. For most of us, Thanksgiving is about spending time with our families and our friends, maybe watching some football or playing a game or two of touch football outside, carving up the turkey, eating the turkey, eating the turkey a second time. Well, it's become a tradition on this holiday here at NPR for us to ask for your stories about who is not at your table this year. We're asking about absent friends, or maybe someone serving in Afghanistan or Iraq or someone you've lost since this time last year, maybe somebody who has to work today or who is simply stuck at the airport. Our phone number is 800-989-8255, or you can email us at talk@npr.org. Or you can also join the conversation at our Website. That's npr.org, and just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Well, when we asked this very same question last year, Alita Cornelius(ph) emailed us then with a reply. She wrote then: Today, Thanksgiving, my daughter is not at my table, and I miss her horribly. But the way society is today, children must move to cities far away for their careers. Hilary(ph), I know you're at the Macy's Day Parade in New York, and I just want you to know that I love you and miss you horribly. But I know you are doing well and are happy.

That was last year. Right now, Alita Cornelius joins us online from her home in Louisville, Kentucky. Alita, Happy Thanksgiving to you.

ALITA CORNELIUS: And Happy Thanksgiving to you, also.

DONVAN: And thanks very much for talking to us. And what we all want to know, is Hilary with you this year?

CORNELIUS: No, she's still in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DONVAN: Does she know that you wrote last year to us?

CORNELIUS: No, she didn't. She didn't know about it till I told her today to maybe listen in.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DONVAN: You think there's a good chance she's listening right now?

CORNELIUS: I hope so. If you are, Hilary, hi. I miss you.

DONVAN: Well, it's - with her not there, how do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your house every year?

CORNELIUS: Well, because my daughter's job is in New York and I'm retired and on fixed income, we get together during the year whenever we can and take that time to celebrate each other's company. But this Thanksgiving, I'll be going to my sister's house who lives here, still in Louisville. The whole the rest of my family has all moved from the place we were raised and grew up and are scattered all over the place. So at least I'm lucky enough to have my sister still here.

DONVAN: When you were a child, or even her age, Alita, were you all together, or were you also a young woman who went away from home and maybe your mom and dad missed you?

CORNELIUS: When I was growing up, we had huge Thanksgivings. And I did go away for a while and wasn't home for Thanksgiving. But most of the time, we just have, you know, huge family gatherings. I grew up with huge extended family get-togethers. And it's just sad that, you know, it just seems like people have to move everywhere and - after they get out to college, go to the city or - it's just a more mobile society, I think.

DONVAN: Well, I want to thank you for sharing your feelings about that and to wish you a good Thanksgiving at your sisters. And it sounds as though - I was going to say, why don't you raise a glass to Hilary? But in a way, you've already done, it before the nation.

CORNELIUS: Mm-hmm.

DONVAN: Thanks very much for joining us.

CORNELIUS: And thank you.

DONVAN: Oh, yeah. It's a pleasure to have you on. So, again, we're asking all of you to call and tell us who's not at your table. Our number is 1-800-989-8255. You can email us, also. Our email address is talk@npr.org. We received this email today from Donna Speaks(ph). She's in Christiansburg, Virginia. She says: My 25-year-old son called from Afghanistan this morning. He was deployed from Knoxville, Tennessee in June. This is the longest I've ever gone without laying eyes on him. I'm so proud of his understanding of the world and for the man he will be when he gets back, even if most Americans are clueless about the war.

And this one from Kasey Davenport(ph) - Kate in Portland, Oregon. She writes: Sadly, I'm the one who is not there today - not because I can't go, but because I have a chest cold and chose not to give it to my family for the holidays. So I'm making a small pumpkin tart, a turkey breast and boxed stuffing, plus lots of tissue and cold medicine.

Kate, Happy Thanksgiving, and get well soon. A number of you have lined up to call, and we are going to begin with Ellen in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ellen, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

ELLEN: Hi.

DONVAN: Hi.

How are you guys today?

ELLEN: We're good. We're not home, but we've got some place to go. How about you?

DONVAN: Oh, I'm sorry. Happy Thanksgiving to you guys.

Thank you.

ELLEN: Anyway, I would just like to let you know, my father is the one that's not amongst us this year. He passed away on Good Friday of this year.

DONVAN: I'm sorry.

ELLEN: And - but, you know, at least he is up in heaven, which - where he belongs. And so, you know, we're OK.

DONVAN: You feeling him in there today?

ELLEN: Yeah.

DONVAN: Yeah. I have a feeling that - we're going to hear from a lot of people, that maybe the seat's empty, but the seat's fall too. Ellen, thank you much for sharing with us. I want to go now to Carey(ph) in Sheridan, Wyoming. Carey, you're on TALK OF THE NATION.

CAREY: Hi.

DONVAN: Hi.

CAREY: How are you?

DONVAN: I'm good. Thank you.

CAREY: My sister, Emily, is serving in the Peace Corps in Kenya right now. And she's not with her family in Wyoming right now, you know, so we miss her a lot, but we're really proud of what she's doing.

DONVAN: And have you had any communication with her today or around the holiday in any way?

CAREY: Not today, but my husband and I actually were able to travel to Kenya in August and spent a month with her, and the people that she is serving. And, you know, were able to see her village, which is pretty poor, but, you know, her generosity being there is just really moving. So...

DONVAN: It sounds as though you're more proud of her being there than you're sad that she's not with you.

CAREY: Yeah, definitely. I definitely am. You know, she and I are three years apart, and we have two other siblings, a brother and a sister. And when we were little, Thanksgiving at my parent's house was just idyllic, amazing, beautiful. And so, you know, we know she'll come back safe and happy and changed and a better person, and we'll all be better for her service as well. So we miss her but she'll be back soon.

DONVAN: Carey, thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.

CAREY: Yeah. Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you.

DONVAN: Bye-bye. Sherry(ph) in Imperial, Missouri. You are on TALK OF THE NATION.

SHERRY: Hello.

DONVAN: Hi.

SHERRY: How are you?

DONVAN: I'm good. Thank you.

SHERRY: Happy Thanksgiving.

DONVAN: Thank you. Too you too.

SHERRY: The person that's not with us today is my son, Anthony, and that's because he is on a walk across America.

DONVAN: Wow.

SHERRY: And right now he's in Texas.

DONVAN: Starting from where?

SHERRY: He started in Charleston, South Carolina.

DONVAN: Mm-hmm.

SHERRY: And he's walked over 1,400 miles.

DONVAN: Wow. Why is he doing the walk?

SHERRY: Personal achievement and to meet the people that make this country great, which he has done.

DONVAN: So he set out how long ago in Charleston?

SHERRY: We took him to airport on August 7, and he officially started his walk on August 8.

DONVAN: So he must have had to tell you back in the summer, I'm not going to be around for the holidays.

SHERRY: We actually didn't talk about it. And then I was interviewed by a young man in Georgia, I believe it was, and he brought it up. And at that time I was kind of speechless because I was like...

DONVAN: It hadn't occurred to you?

SHERRY: ...hadn't thought about it. I didn't think that far ahead. So (unintelligible) I'm sorry?

DONVAN: You know, what I'm thinking is it if, if he would run as fast as he could, then he might have made it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHERRY: No. His motto is life at three miles per hour.

DONVAN: Wow.

SHERRY: But fortunately the good people in Texas, a family took him and that made my week. I was brought to tears when I found out that he wouldn't be alone.

DONVAN: That's terrific. Sherry, thank you very much. Happy Thanksgiving.

SHERRY: And can I give his website?

DONVAN: Sure, go ahead.

SHERRY: It's anthonywalkamerica.com, and he's also on Facebook under the same name.

DONVAN: That's easy to remember. Sherry, thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and to him wherever he is. I want to go back to some of the emails that you're sending in. This is labeled from the Limousines and says: We are a band called the Limousines. We just finished a North American tour. We listen to NPR on all of our very long drives. And today we're finishing our drive from the last show in Vancouver to the Bay Area. We miss our families, and we're trying hard to make it home before the mash potatoes get old(ph) . That's from up – there is a name, Eric Victorino(ph) . Eric, Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you. Drive safely.

From Tim Kagan(ph): My grandmother passed away last August at age 94. She was always the center of Thanksgiving dinner. I will miss those Thanksgiving dinners always as much as I will miss her. Sent from his iPhone.

Susan Lund(ph) writes: I'm missing from my - I am missing. I'm the one missing from my family's table just outside Boston. I'm back in Washington, D.C., to start a new chapter in my life. It's the first year without our beloved dad, who died in April. So my dad and I are both missing. My mother understands my absence. She misses me. I'm the only the girl with three older brothers, but we made up for it by talking for an hour and a half this morning. Hour and a half.

Let's got to Portland. And John, welcome you on TALK OF THE NATION.

JOHN: Hello?

DONVAN: Hi, John. You're on the program.

JOHN: Hi. This year my Thanksgiving plans, as well as last year, have kind of taken on a little bit new - a new form. My family over the last six or seven years or so have both stratified and most of them actually have passed away - most recently my father, last spring, of complications to chronic emphysema. Aunts and uncles have also passed away, cousins have passed away. All of my grandparents, my great grandparents passed away, both on my mom's side and my dad's side. So this year it's kind of dwindled down to just a couple of siblings who are out at various points in their lives across the United States and myself. And so there is actually no official family get-together this year.

DONVAN: So John, what are you doing yourself today?

JOHN: This year I'm actually caught in traffic outside of Portland on my way to the Corrales, to go to a friend's parents' house for Thanksgiving.

DONVAN: So you're going to be temporarily part of somebody else's family tonight?

JOHN: Absolutely, yeah. This friend, I've know her since we were in high school. It's been 12, 13 years. So I've always been pretty close to her family, and this is actually the - one of the second holidays that I've spent with them out there.

DONVAN: You know, John, it occurs to me that what you're talking about is difficult. As painful as it is, it's part of the cycle. We can't expect it to go on forever. And I guess the tricky thing is figuring out how to become the starting point. You know, we look at our grandparents, at the people who started these families and these traditions, but they were children once too. And I guess the challenge is how do you become the starting point for Thanksgivings to come for some larger group. Do you give thought to that?

JOHN: Yeah. And slowly but surely the siblings that I do have, and myself, some of them have started to have children. And eventually I will start having children, and eventually I think that the family will kind of start populating again. And I look forward to a time when, eventually, the, you know, we have a large enough base close enough together to where some of the Mathis(ph) family gatherings that we had around the holidays will kind of come back, maybe in a different form, without some people, of course. But eventually, you know, that will be an experience that we'll all get to have again.

DONVAN: Excellent. That sounds fantastic. And thanks to that family that's taking you on this temporary period. John in Portland, thanks for your call.

JOHN: Sure.

DONVAN: Thank you. I'd like to go to - I believe your name is Macy(ph) in Sacramento. Are you still there?

MACY: That's right. Yes, I am.

DONVAN: Hi. Hi. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

MACY: Thank you. I'm not sure I can't get through this because it's so painful. But I've been estranged from my daughter for five years and I don't know why. The last time I saw her was on her birthday five years ago, and it was a perfect birthday. The gifts were wonderful. The evening was fine. There was no problem, nothing happened bad. As far as I know, nothing has happened bad, but she's just cut me off, won't return my phone calls. Her husband has talked to her a number of times, my son-in-law. I wouldn't see my grandson either, except occasionally my son-in-law brings him up and I'm really grateful for that. But we're just a tiny little family. I had two children and my husband is dead. And my son is working this weekend, so I can't be with him. But I do have a friend and we're going to go - I hope we're going to go out someplace for dinner.

DONVAN: You do have memories, it sounds, of much better Thanksgivings than this one.

MACY: Well, it used to be a bigger little family when our parents were alive, and we were lucky both of our parents lived a long time. It's just that everyone has died now, and I'm getting pretty old. And I don't sound like it normally, but I'm sounding bad right now. But I don't know why this happened and I've searched my mind, and I just miss her so much. We were so close. I was her best friend, she was mine, and I don't know what happened. I'm hoping that something will change, but I don't know what to do. I've done everything I can. I've sent gifts. I've sent cards. I've sent letters. I've called and I've done everything I can do.

DONVAN: Macy, I wish I had the answer and I wish the words Happy Thanksgiving could turn this, but it's all I have. It's all I have to say, is Happy Thanksgiving and make the best of it.

MACY: I appreciate that. I'm hoping she'll hear the call and maybe decide to explain things to me and tell me what happened.

DONVAN: She knows your voice. Macy, thank you very much.

MACY: Thank you.

DONVAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. We're asking for your stories of people who are not at your dinner table this Thanksgiving or dinner tables that you cannot get to.

And we're receiving quite a few emails from you. This one from Cindy Craybell(ph). She writes: I am not with my two daughters, Kaitlin(ph) and Kristin(ph) today because I am divorced. I am sure that you have many listeners out there who are divorced for whatever reasons, but have to deal with the consequence of sharing kids on holidays. It never gets any easier.

From Patricia Jacobs: Our 35-year-old son is in psychiatric lockup in New York. He's homeless mainly because we can no longer bear the chaos, financial burden and fear of what he'll do next, when(ph) he did living with us. We'd like your audience to know that the major thief in mental illness is the inability, not the willfulness of its victims, to understand that they are incapable of rational thought and that they are, in fact, mentally ill. It has devastated our family. And it's interesting how this one meal can reveal so much, both for good and for evil, what's going on in people's lives. It's more than just a holiday, it sounds.

We're going to finish up with an email from a Jack, whose subject matter is furnace is out. And he writes this: My wife is three hours away at another house. I have most of the fixings here and I was ready to drive up early this morning, but I noticed it was 56 degrees inside the house when I got up. The new furnace has blown a circuit. They will replace it Friday morning, and we will enjoy a postponed meal later in the day. It's OK.

In the meanwhile, got a recipe anybody for one can of Spam that I can use? I don't have a lot of food here, and I don't want to dip into the Thanksgiving goodies. Happy Thanksgivings. That is John near La Crosse. John, you got us off on an uplifting note. We like your pluck and your spirit.

Thanks to all of you who have been sharing these stories of Thanksgiving alone and Thanksgiving without the person you want to be there. They are painful. They are truthful. They say a lot about why this holiday means so much to all of us.

I'm John Donvan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Happy Thanksgiving.

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