Who's Not At Your Dinner Table?

Host Neal Conan talks with listeners about who is not at their Thanksgiving dinner table this year, and why.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

About 20 years ago, my wife and family and about 25 friends expected me back from the Persian Gulf to celebrate Thanksgiving. I called that morning, and she said hey, are you at JFK? Well, not exactly, Manama in Bahrain. And honey, whatever you hear on the radio about what happened earlier today, I'm fine. Well, there were still a few leftovers when I did they get home, and everything turned out OK. This year, as we continue what's turning into a tradition on Talk of the Nation, we want to hear your stories about those who are not at your table this year for whatever reason.

Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. Here's an email we got from Cody. Today, I miss my grandmother. And, the way she could command our eclectic army of siblings and cousins. The way she could entertain and understand all of our differences and make us see the blood we share while loving each of us without hesitation making us all feel unique, special and appreciated. I give thanks to her and miss her the most on this fine day.

And we got this from Jennifer. For the past eight years, my mom has not been at the Thanksgiving dinner table. She died in 2001 at the age of 59. And, it's changed our life for good. My brother and I are closer, but in 2003, our dad got married to someone we don't really understand. Consequently, my dad isn't at the dinner table this year. My husband and I drove nine hours to spend Thanksgiving with my brother and his family, and his wife's extended family, and we love being here. But it makes us sad that dad is disconnected as he is.

So, thanks to Jennifer from that. Let's see if we can get some phone calls on the line, 800-989-8255, email again talk@npr.org. Terry is with us. Terry from Ogden in Utah.

TERRY (Caller): Hi. I'm just missing my son. My husband and I here in Ogden, Utah, have a son and a daughter. And, our son cooked our Thanksgiving dinner last year, and he's doing his Ph.D. dissertation research in Soria, Spain today.

CONAN: And did he call, or did you call him?

TERRY: He called today. He doesn't have a phone so he calls via Internet, you know, Skype.

CONAN: Sure, a voice over Internet VOIP, yeah, that what's it called, yeah.

TERRY: And so, he's going to actually be back next week, but he's been there for six weeks doing research in the archives. So he's getting his Ph.D. from University of Texas Austin.

CONAN: I know you proud of them, but obviously you miss him too.

TERRY: Yes.

CONAN: And they don't celebrate Thanksgiving in Spain?

TERRY: Well, I assume not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Did he tell you what he was doing today?

TERRY: No. He was just asking what was going on here, but I'm assuming he probably is going to go to the archives. He's doing some research on Latin America, and the Apache Indians from Northern Mexico, the archives in Soria, Spain have you know.

CONAN: All the colonial archives there, you know.

TERRY: Yes, that 1700s.

CONAN: Yeah. Terry, we wish you and your son a Happy Thanksgiving. I guess you'll all be together again next year.

TERRY: And at Christmas, so thank you very much and you too.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

TERRY: Bye.

CONAN: Let's go now to Kyle. and Kyle is calling us from Seward in Alaska.

KYLE (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi Kyle.

KYLE: How you doing this morning?

CONAN: Well, it's this afternoon where we are here in Washington D.C., but we're doing very well thanks.

KYLE: Oh all right. Well, I called in I wanted to let you know I love your show. What I called about is that today for the first time in pretty much my lifetime, I'm away from my family on Thanksgiving. I'm originally from Chicago, Illinois and made the move up here to Alaska to take a teaching job. And, was lucky enough to get one up here in this beautiful, beautiful place. But for the first time in almost 20 years, I didn't make the seven and half hour drive from Chicago to southern Illinois to spend the Thanksgiving holidays with my dad's side of the family.

CONAN: So you're the one who's missing from the table this year.

KYLE: Yeah. I'm the one missing from the table this year.

CONAN: And what are you doing on this Thanksgiving Day?

KYLE: Actually, I'm getting together with a group of other people from the school I teach at. A lot of us are surprisingly from the lower 48, from pretty much the upper Midwest, and we're all getting together and having a Thanksgiving.

CONAN: So it's a new kind of family, if you will.

KYLE: Yeah. It's almost a found family if you want to look at it that way.

CONAN: And somebody's cooking a turkey, and everybody else is bringing something else.

KYLE: Oh yeah, we're all bringing little bits and pieces of it. I'm actually bringing the cinnamon rolls today.

CONAN: Are they in the over now?

KYLE: Yeah, actually, they are.

CONAN: Must smell pretty great.

KYLE: It smells wonderful.

CONAN: Kyle, have a great celebration.

KYLE: You, too. Take care.

CONAN: And call home, will you? Let's see if we can get Megan on the line. Megan is calling us from Reno from in Nevada.

MEGAN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Megan. Happy Thanksgiving.

MEGAN: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Who's not at the table this year?

MEGAN: My father has not been there for ten years. And you know, every year, we have a little tradition that we do - we put a plate out and everybody puts a little bit of something on that plate for him. So, it's kind of a nice little remembrance of him.

CONAN: Was there something special that he always went for first?

MEGAN: He was a pretty conservative guy so, but he did always get the largest pizza pie so.

CONAN: Pumpkin pie, I assume.

MEGAN: You know, my mom actually makes pumpkin, minced meat, and apple. And, he'd always ask for a sliver of all three.

CONAN: And did he mesh them all together or just one bite from each one at a time?

MEGAN: One bite from each one at a time, and he would always save the tip of the pie for his last bite.

CONAN: So he'd eat it from crust to tip?

MEGAN: Well, he'd take the tip off and then he'd eat the rest of the pie and eat that tip last.

CONAN: Any reason?

MEGAN: It's interesting. No, you know, he just did it. He said it was the sweetest part of a pie. So he has six children, and it's interesting because he was always the same - very, I don't know, very level headed and everything else for raising six kids. And it's interesting because his name was Harry Potter.

CONAN: And died I guess before all the fuss.

MEGAN: Before all the fuss, thank goodness.

CONAN: And, it's remarkable how those people - we feel their presence so strongly on a day like this.

MEGAN: I certainly do. We're a blended family, and he had two children and well, actually, he adopted two children, and then he adopted the four of us after my father passed away. So, you know, father of six, and didn't father any of them, but what a great father.

CONAN: It sounds like he was a wonderful man.

MEGAN: He definitely was.

CONAN: Have a happy Thanksgiving, Megan.

MEGAN: Thank you.

CONAN: This is from Cheryl in Gallipolis, Ohio. My son is not home for the Thanksgiving this year. He's serving with the military in Kuwait. He'll be home soon, but it isn't the same. If he were home, I could call him and say hi and happy Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving will be the day he is home with his three kids and his wife. Another email, this one from Karen in Kansas City in Missouri. Who is not going to be at the table? My 25-year-old son. He's in a state-run mental hospital this Thanksgiving. He's been there now for three weeks. He is a bipolar talented musician who, as most young men this age with his illness, thinks they can kick it on their own until they can't. He just called me, and asked me to please bring in something good to eat, but it must be something in a new unopened commercial package so they can be sure it doesn't have any drugs or alcohol in it. My whole family will miss him, our music entertainment, this Thanksgiving day.

CONAN: Now, let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And let's go now to Sheila. Sheila with us from Nehalem in Oregon.

SHEILA (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi. Happy Thanksgiving, Sheila.

SHEILA: Thank you. So the person missing from my Thanksgiving is my 97-year-old mother who died this May. And, she's a wonderful pioneer lady, and about ten year ago as I was building an apartment in my house thinking I was going to have boarders, she announced to me that she would like to move in with me. So, she sold out her belongings and moved out of the house that she had designed and built herself many years before, and seemingly did it with no regrets and a positive move-forward attitude. The only criteria she had about transition was that the new apartment had to have room for her dining room table so she could continue to invite all family and extended family for Thanksgiving which she then did for every year she lived with me.

CONAN: And that accounted, added up to a lot of people, I suspect.

SHEILA: Well, we had to put all the leaves in the table and put it at an angle so it would fit in the apartment, but we did every year and it was wonderful.

CONAN: And brought chairs from all over the house.

SHEILA: That's right.

CONAN: It's interesting, you see all the kitchen chairs in the living room at that time of year. And, did she - was she famous for any particular dish?

SHEILA: Well, she had a fresh cranberry salad that to this day, friends who might have had Thanksgiving with us many years ago will still call me from faraway places like Alaska and say what is Julia's cranberry salad recipe? So that was her legacy.

CONAN: And do you still have the recipe?

SHEILA: Absolutely.

CONAN: And you still make it?

SHEILA: Yes.

CONAN: Is yours as good as hers?

SHEILA: No.

CONAN: Sheila, I suspect you're going to have a great Thanksgiving feast anyway.

SHEILA: Yes.

CONAN: Thanks very much for calling.

SHEILA: Thank you.

CONAN: So long.

SHEILA: Bye.

CONAN: Here's another email. This one from Arlyn(ph) in Delroy, Ohio. Three of my children are not home for Thanksgiving. My oldest and youngest moved out of town, because they could not get jobs in Ohio. My son is serving in Iraq in the army and coming to the end of a 15-month long tour. This is his second Thanksgiving away from home. We hope that he makes it home safely for the next Thanksgiving.

This is from Ronda(ph) in Garden City, Michigan. My mother passed away Monday night after a long battle with cancer. Having been bedridden and struggling with a disease for several months, she woke up Monday morning not remembering her trials and wanting to get out of bed. When I told her she couldn't walk anymore, she asked why. Because you have cancer I replied. After a few moments, she asked why is there cancer? Why do I have to have cancer? Her questions broke my heart, and all I could say was I don't know Mom. You're going to have ask God that someday. This Thanksgiving, my family is thankful she is no longer suffering, but we still miss her at our Thanksgiving table this evening. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. Let's get Mark(ph) on the line. Mark with us from Wilmington in North Carolina.

MARK (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Mark. Who's missing at the table this year?

MARK: Actually, me. I've been a musician, and I play an extended brunch for Thanksgiving. So it's been several years that I haven't been home. This year in particular, with the economy the way that things have been going, they've been cutting back, and I thought there would be a good chance that I'd make it home, and they called me in so I'm lucky to have the job. I'd like to have the work, but certainly I miss my family.

CONAN: On the other hand, you turn down no paying gigs.

MARK: That's right. You got to make the money so they can put the food on the table. I have two little young ones right now, and they're with their mother, and they're all having a nice Thanksgiving so I'm looking forward to being finished and getting with my family.

CONAN: What do you play, Mark?

MARK: I'm a guitarist.

CONAN: And this brunch kind of place in Wilmington, that's of course a coastal town in North Carolina.

MARK: Yeah. I play at the beach. It's a very nice place, the Sun Spree Resort, and they've had, you know, a Sunday brunch which I've been doing for the past ten years. But just recently they've cut that out. I think, with the economy and the way things are going. They just decided it wasn't making money for them.

CONAN: So, at the end of the day, you're going to drive and be with your family?

MARK: Yeah, absolutely. I'm looking forward to it. They're going to save me a plate.

CONAN: Are, you going to play any particular tune for them today?

MARK: Well they usually don't ask me. They figure I guess I've had enough, but I'm always willing to play whatever they want to hear. So, it's a nice time to be together. So, I'll just take it and play it by ear, I guess.

CONAN: Mark, have a great Thanksgiving Day. Drive carefully if you will.

MARK: OK. Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Bye-bye. Let's go now to Eric, and Eric's with us from Forest Grove in Oregon.

ERIC (Caller): Hi. I'm calling because in 1968, my father was a fighter pilot in Vietnam for the Air Force. He died in a crash landing at (unintelligible).

CONAN: I'm so sorry to hear that, Eric.

ERIC: On Thanksgiving Day.

CONAN: On Thanksgiving Day. And this is something, I can hear it in your voice. This is so important to you.

ERIC: And it was just a month after my little brother was born. He was conceived shortly not long before he left so my little brother was born on October 27th and we lost my dad on Thanksgiving Day. I'm the middle kid of five, and I was seven at the time. My oldest sister was eleven. I take that back, 13 and an eleven-year-old, and I was seven, and a little sister of five and the infant.

CONAN: Is there something you do to remember him every year?

ERIC: I think we've - well, this year, we're not all together for Thanksgiving, but when we are together, we certainly talk about him and generally shed some tears. And I'm sure each of us will honor him today.

CONAN: Every year at this holiday and a couple of others but I generally raise a toast to absent friends. So, I'll remember your father, Eric, today.

ERIC: Thank you very much.

CONAN: All right. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

ERIC: I'll do my best.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Amy. My husband, Aitran(ph), is a doctor at the University of Kentucky Hospital. He's on call today. I'll be taking food to him at the hospital tonight missing him and loving him. This is from Scott. I'm writing because we miss our dear friends, R and MA, in San Antonio. We've had Thanksgiving dinner with them every year for the past nine years with the exception of one. I took a new job in Ohio this fall. They were all set with airline tickets to celebrate Thanksgiving with us this year but had to cancel because of an illness. I made two 5x7 photos and cut them out to make flat people and have them with us at the dinner table. We love you MA and R. And this is from Paul. It used to be our whole family would gather in our parent's mountain cabin from every corner of the states - Florida to San Diego to Alaska - to celebrate Thanksgiving. We would come in whatever shape we were in, whatever current configuration. I never realized how special that was until it was gone. Our parents moved to Alaska, and now it's just too difficult for all of us to get up there. Greetings to all of those Carufels(ph) out there from Paul.

This is from Noel in Orinda, California. Oh, no, it seems you have this segment on when I'm trying to make myself look presentable for the Thanksgiving and end up with an mascara running down my face. Every story makes me recollect Thanksgiving's past and the loss of each family member. This year will be our first Thanksgiving without my husband's grandmother, Edith. She brought history alive for my own children and she's described growing up during the Depression and sending off her husband to the war. It seems like we are always looking for a way to reconnect to our past. Thanks for the program and damn the mascara.

Well, absent friends, everybody. Remember somebody who's not at the table this year, and have a happy Thanksgiving. Ira Flatow is here tomorrow with Science Friday. We'll see you again on Monday. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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