WHO'S NOT AT YOUR TABLE?

It's become an annual tradition on Talk of the Nation to take some time on Thanksgiving Day to remember the family and friends and neighbors who won't join us at the dinner table this year. The son or daughter who can't get away. A nephew who is serving in Afghanistan. Perhaps, the favorite aunt who passed away. Neal Conan talks with listeners about the people missing from their Thanksgiving table today, and how they remember absent family and friends.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Most of us on Thanksgiving gather with family and friends. The menu and the festivities are often the same: a look at the big parade in New York on TV, maybe a game of touch football.

Each year on this holiday, we ask for stories about who's not at your table this year. About absent friends, someone in Afghanistan maybe or Iraq, somebody you've lost since this time last year. Maybe somebody has to work today.

Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We've gotten some emails already, this one from Gail(ph). I was driving home thinking and prepare about - preparing piecrust and turkey this evening when I heard Neal ask who's missing from your Thanksgiving table this year. We're very fortunate to have all the grandparents at our table tomorrow and all of our children, except one, our son Jay(ph). Jay is serving with the Army in Iraq this Thanksgiving. His wife and new son will travel from Germany to join us tomorrow to celebrate our grandson's first Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, Jay will miss this first Thanksgiving with his new son. We're so honored to have them with us.

As you do your Thanksgiving preparations and traveling this year, please remember the brave sons and daughters of our nation who are serving their country in Afghanistan and Iraq. Because of them, we are able to be a truly safe and thankful nation this Thanksgiving. Thank you to all our men and women in uniform and happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

We also got this from Danielle(ph) in Novato, California. This year, we will not be having Thanksgiving at my father's house as he passed away in October from a two-year battle with cancer and dementia. Last year, at this time, he was in India, determined to get back there before he died and being chaperoned by some kind Indian friends. The year before, he checked himself out of a nursing home against medical advice because he refused to spend Thanksgiving with them and wanted to spend it with his three children.

He loved Thanksgiving. However, never properly prepared for it, so it was often interesting to one to see how we were going to cobble together a meal with the ingredients that he did by always including Tofurky instead of turkey.

This year, though, we will be joined by his first grandchild, my three-month old son who we were fortunate enough to meet - was fortunate enough to meet his grandfather a couple of times though he will never remember.

Again, our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Who are the absent friends at your Thanksgiving dinner table this year?

We'll start with Danielle(ph). Danielle calling us from Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

DANIELLE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Happy Thanksgiving.

DANIELLE: Thank you. We're getting ready to walk out the door to go spend some time with some friends of mine, three other ladies, and all our husbands are deployed.

CONAN: All your other husbands are deployed.

DANIELLE: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: In Afghanistan and Iraq.

DANIELLE: Afghanistan, yes.

CONAN: And that's got to make it an interesting day.

DANIELLE: It's our fourth deployment so we're used to it.

CONAN: Sadly, I suspect.

DANIELLE: Yeah.

CONAN: And I wonder, how do the rituals change when the men are overseas?

DANIELLE: Usually, it's wives who get together with a whole group of kids and we - instead of everybody cooking a big meal, you know, we all cook a couple of dishes and get together and the kids run wild and we eat. And somebody's cell phone always goes off in the middle of the meal because it's their husband calling, and we just have a great time together.

CONAN: A little less football then perhaps might be otherwise.

DANIELLE: Yeah. Yeah.

CONAN: Danielle, thank you so much for sharing your day and good luck to everybody.

DANIELLE: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Christine in Hong Kong. I am the one who won't be at the Thanksgiving table this year. I teach English in Hong Kong, and haven't been to a family Thanksgiving in four or five years. Thankfully, I have friends here to celebrate American Thanksgiving with, but it's still a hard day for me. Not only do I have to work, I miss my family gathering. Some years, I call my family by Skype and can talk to them that way. This year, the dinner is at my grandparent's place. They don't have a computer, so I will not be able to see or talk with them at all.

Let's see if we could go next to Seth(ph) and Seth's with us - Seth is with us from Route 85 in South Carolina.

SETH (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Seth.

SETH: Yeah. I'm headed back right now. I just left my family in North Carolina, and it's not so much fun to leave right before, you know, Thanksgiving dinner is going to happen.

CONAN: But why did you have to go?

SETH: Well, I work Black Friday tomorrow, so I have to wake up at 2:00 in the morning. So I'm trying to get in bed by 7:00.

CONAN: I see. So you have to be at work at some ridiculous hour because of the people coming in for the early morning sales.

SETH: Yeah, I work at 3:00 in the morning, and I'm one of the millions, I guess, who - you know, college graduates, to date, I've applied to 131 jobs, yet, you know, I find myself doing this, so it's kind of tough.

CONAN: Nevertheless, you need to do what you need to do.

SETH: That's right.

CONAN: All right. You're going to get any turkey at all?

SETH: We actually - my family ate at Cracker Barrel today. That way, everyone could be together at one meal at the same time to save a little bit of time and - because we usually do separate grandparents out. So we consolidated today.

CONAN: Well, Seth, drive carefully.

SETH: Yeah. Thank you.

CONAN: And have a good day tomorrow.

SETH: Thank you.

CONAN: And here's an email. This is from Julie. The person who won't be at our Thanksgiving table this year is our 22-year-old daughter, Kelsey. Kelsey is a Peace Corps volunteer training in Rwanda. Kelsey is a 15th generation Mayflower descendant of Pilgrim William White. Please indulge this sentimental mom her musing on Kelsey's journey. I can't help but see a few similarities to her Pilgrim ancestors.

She recently arrived in Rwanda, spending her first Thanksgiving with 60 other -68 other Peace Corps trainees in a different land far from home. She has found the Rwandan people welcoming, but definitely curious about the all - about all the mzungu(ph) - sure I mispronounced that - white people around them. I am so proud of these young pilgrims who are visiting a strange land new to them. I wish my daughter and her fellow Peace Corps volunteers a happy Thanksgiving and many blessings.

Let's see if we can go next to Cathy Lou(ph), Cathy Lou with us from Grass Valley in California.

CATHY LOU (Caller): Hi. This is a great show. I just wanted to let you know there's three people that are going to be terribly missed this Thanksgiving. Clifford, Ridgewood Apartments, passed away, a decorated veteran of World War II. James O'Sea(ph), a decorated veteran of World War II. And Stanley Garceau(ph), also a decorated veteran of World War II. Theyve recently passed away in the last year, year and a half. And I just wanted everyone to know I'm sure their families are going to sorely miss them, and I, as their neighbor, friend and chauffeur really will miss them.

CONAN: Chauffeur? You drove them around?

CATHY LOU: Yeah. You know, their families live far away. And they were very -94. James used to just get into the bus and go his merry way, get those Wheels on Meals people that take him to the store. And I'd always end up at the same store and end up taking him home with his five or six bags of groceries. Very independent people, these men, very wonderful.

CONAN: And it's sad to realize that were losing so many veterans of the Second World War every single day.

CATHY LOU: They are. But the good news is that James took advantage of a program that the veterans for World War II gave, where he got to take a trip. His grandson was able to, with, I think, $200, was able to chauffeur him to Washington, D.C. and give them a tour of Washington last year, I believe it was. And I'm going to...

CONAN: And get down to the memorial.

CATHY LOU: Mm-hmm. And I'm going to miss them all sorely. I believe they're all going to be - I know Stan got a 21-gun salute. I'm sure James will. And Clifford's family was trying to get in through the VA. There were some problems with that. A problem...

CONAN: Well, we hope that works out. And, Cathy...

CATHY LOU: I do, too. And I hope that their families, you know, realize what a loss it is to - I know they know - they do realize what a loss. And I just want to let them know that their lives touched mine very much.

CONAN: Thank you, Cathy Lou, for touching our lives.

CATHY LOU: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Email from Carolyn and John. I know this is crazy, but our dog, Zoey(ph), will not be with us. She died three weeks ago and we're heartbroken. What will we do with the turkey she loved so much?

This is from Julia in Cincinnati. My mother is the person I've always most admired. She always looked forward to her Thanksgiving visit to Cincinnati. She loved our meal of turkey, with all of the fixings and white wine. She came here six years ago, returned home, and the next day passed away in her sleep. I miss her most when we sit down to eat, which we will do in a few hours.

Let's go next to Chris, and Chris with us from Grand Rapids.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi. How is it going?

CONAN: All right.

CHRIS (Caller): I'm actually missing my brother this year. He passed away at the first of this month, and it's just sad to see him go. But I'm actually kind of thankful right now because he had a surgery when he was 16, and at that time I was about eight. So I really didn't get to know him. And, you know, the Lord blessed me with the time that he got to stay here. And, you know, I'm just thankful for all the times that I got to spend with him. So, yeah, he's not going to be at our dinner table this year.

CONAN: Well, Chris, raise a glass in his honor.

CHRIS: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call.

This from Anne in Pierre, South Dakota. My - this year, my son, Andrew, who's a marine aboard USS Peleliu(ph) will not be at the table. Last year, it was both Andrew and my son, Mike, who was a marine in Afghanistan. This is the fifth year in a row that one or the other has not been home due to deployments.

Let's see if we can go next to Andrew, Andrew with us from Wichita.

ANDREW (Caller): Hi, Neal. I am not the - I am the one who's not at my table today for Thanksgiving.

CONAN: How come?

ANDREW: I have to work. I'm an employee of one of the local television affiliates. And we have our full schedule of news programming today. So I had to come in about two hours ago, been here most of the afternoon.

CONAN: I don't understand the story at all.

ANDREW: I know. I bet you can relate. But it was a pleasant surprise. I walked in, my boss had brought in a full catered Thanksgiving dinner for everybody who had to come in to work today, so it was very nice.

CONAN: We have a tradition here at NPR. Every year at Thanksgiving the staff of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED puts together a giant turkey dinner that they serve downstairs. Well, initially it was just for the ATC staff, but now it spread out and everybody who's working Thanksgiving is invited to participate. So I think this is a tradition in a lot of broadcast outlets, Andrew, and all those places were the only windows in the workspaces look into control rooms.

ANDREW: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANDREW: Sounds familiar.

CONAN: Okay, well, at least you're not in - at least you're not at the vending machine this year.

ANDREW: No lies.

CONAN: Okay, thanks very much.

ANDREW: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We're asking you to tell stories about the people who will not be at your Thanksgiving table this year, absent friends. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And this is an email from Laura in Portland. This year, my oldest daughter, Olivia Ancona, who would have been a senior at Julliard, is now in her first year dancing with the world-renowned Batsheva Ensemble in Tel Aviv. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful my firstborn is living her dream, but wishing her dream didn't take her so far away.

Let's go to Nora. Nora with us from Nikiski. Am I getting that right, in Alaska?

NORA (Caller): Yes, Nikiski, Alaska.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

NORA: Hi, my daughter, Clarissa, is teaching in Indonesia at a little mission school. And she will not be with us for Thanksgiving, but she'll be celebrating with some other people in Indonesia.

CONAN: In Indonesia, a sun-drenched place and, of course, here in Alaska, is it dark - how many hours is it light there at this time of the year?

NORA: I think, we're around between seven and eight hours, and it's snowing right now so it's a little dreary. But well be thinking of her.

And then also, my son, Joel, is in Salem, Oregon, and he will not be with the family either. So it's kind of going to be a small celebration this year.

CONAN: Well, I'm sure it will be wonderful, nevertheless. What particularly about their absence - what do they bring to the celebration that you most going to miss?

NORA: Oh, we have a lot of fun together. We play games, and they gave great stories. And the kids get along really well. And it's just kind of sad when we're not all together, so just the family, kind of, being together.

CONAN: All right.

NORA: Now, they're growing up. We don't get to see them as much.

CONAN: You've launched them though.

NORA: All right. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks and happy Thanksgiving. Let's see, we go next to - this is Kelly(ph). And Kelly is with us from Flagstaff, Arizona.

KELLY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

KELLY: Hi. I am not going to be at the Thanksgiving today because I'm a pet sitter.

CONAN: A pet sitter. So somebody has left their pet and you are taking care of them. But that means you can't go to Thanksgiving?

KELLY: That's correct. I do visit, so I'm going all around Flagstaff, making sure that all the pets are having a good day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's noble work. And their owners are presumably all off somewhere celebrating Thanksgiving.

KELLY: Yes.

CONAN: Do you bring the pets anything special on a holiday?

KELLY: I think I will today, actually. I think I'm going to give them all a little bit of our turkey if - if I've gotten permission.

CONAN: That's great.

KELLY: Yeah.

CONAN: And are these are mostly dogs and cats? Or do you have anything unusual?

KELLY: My most unusual is I'm taking care of two donkeys this time.

CONAN: Two donkeys?

KELLY: Yep.

CONAN: Are they in advance of the Christmas, you know, pageant?

KELLY: One of them might be, actually. She's actually a - what do you call it, a pack mule?

CONAN: Uh-huh.

KELLY: And her son is just a baby. He was born in July, so he's not ready yet.

CONAN: Okay, well, it'll grow into the part.

KELLY: Yeah.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Kelly. Happy Thanksgiving. Drive carefully.

KELLY: Thank you. You, too, thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to Cindy(ph), and Cindy with us from Redding in California.

CINDY (Caller): Happy Thanksgiving.

CONAN: Happy Thanksgiving to you.

CINDY: I'm missing the best dog in the world. His name was Cooper.

CONAN: And Cooper passed away this year?

CINDY: He did, this summer, yes. He got a disease that took his spinal column and brain and swelled it up. And it was called GME and it's pretty rare. And it's a horrible thing to watch. And it gave me a chance to learn from my boyfriend about how to love somebody when they're sick and even unresponsive. So I'm grateful, because I think I grew a lot in my humanity. But I miss...

CONAN: Oh, I'm sorry, Cindy. I'm sorry.

CINDY: But, you know, your friends teach you how to walk through the hard stuff. And my sweetie, he's older than I am, so he's had to lose a pet. So I'm grateful to have a friend like that. So I just want to encourage people that have their pets to take lots of photos. And if you got a video camera, because it's very cheering when they - you know, they just dont live as long as us.

CONAN: All right, Cindy. Thanks very much. And we'll mourn for Cooper, too.

CINDY: Happy Thanksgiving.

CONAN: Bye. Here's an email from Dean(ph) in Sioux, Iowa. My sister, Jenny, is currently in South Korea doing service work to make people's lives there better. As tensions there grow, we miss her more and more. We'll be Skyping her into our Thanksgiving meal, 5 p.m. our time, 6 a.m. her time.

And this - even though I've never had Thanksgiving with my father in law, Brian Marsden, we're going to miss him this Thanksgiving. He passed away a week ago. He was a renowned astronomer, wine connoisseur, a fun grandfather, a fabulous father in law, a devoted father and an all-around jolly good Englishman. We miss him very much.

Well, we Googled the Brian Marsden, the astronomer known for among other things, the person who play the key role in the demotion of Pluto to dwarf-planet status. There's something to remember. He passed away this year.

And we'll end with this email that we have. It's not what everyone thinks about when you had a show about missing people at the holidays. My younger brother -he turns 21 on December 1st - is spending his second Thanksgiving, Christmas in jail for doing some very stupid things. Despite his missteps, we miss him and his presence is felt as a loss for all of our family. It divides my family this holiday.

And as I stay home and my mom visits him in Northern New York, some people make poor choices and deal with the consequences, but it affects the family in many ways. We want him to know we love him and miss him and are supporting him the best we can. A different kind of absence, mixed with anger and sadness.

Thanks you all for writing. I'm Neal Conan. And this is NPR News.

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