By John Thomas Tuft

The party really started jumping when Gertie took out her dentures and plopped them into her tumbler of water. Millie, with a trim 90-year-old body stuffed into her skinny jeans and tight pink sweater, laughed and raised her glass of wine toward Wild Bill, perched at the end of the table on his super deluxe motorized three-wheel scooter. Wild Bill’s shock of white hair bobbed up and down as he carefully constructed a perfect bite of turkey, mashed potatoes pressed into the peas to hold them on the fork, stuffing, gravy and a bit of cranberry salad. The small salad of greens to the side could be safely ignored. The klatch of blue haired ladies in wool suits and drawn on eyebrows decided to roll the dice, and each took a piece of each of the four types of pie offered for dessert. Even mincemeat…which might be due to the extra dreg of rum added to the recipe by an understanding cook back in the giant kitchen.

Guilty pleasures are quite often the best pleasures…

Over in one corner, the Bad Boys of Hallway C huddle around a stash of chocolates and beer, even though you aren’t supposed to bring either to the dining hall. The BB of C all have missing limbs and/or failing eyesight due to the complications of diabetes. However, their motto is “you’re never going to live if you’re too scared to die.” In fact, Billy J has it as a tattoo on his flabby belly and every time his tee shirt rides up, it’s there for everyone to read. He’s convinced that is part of his appeal to the blue hair crowd, but he can’t be sure seeing as how they always ignore him. Billie Jean is a young 62, placed here by her family because she can’t remember who she is. It’s her first Thanksgiving in The Joint, as all the old hands call it. It’s really not a prison, but neither is it a passion. Billie Jean is fascinated by the birds kept in a large glass cage in the lobby and is reluctant to leave them to join in the feast. Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose…

Sandra sits quietly in the corner staring out at the traffic as the sun sets behind purple and gold. “What are we waiting for?” she asks quietly. “Is this an airport, or is this a train station? There’s so many here, we should invite them in for Thanksgiving. The travelers need to get home, don’t you agree?” She directs this to Jim, her husband who sits on the edge of the chair. He is visiting her for the day, straining to remember the young, vibrant woman who said yes all those years ago. “We have so much food here, if the kids come they’ll…” and here she smiles and sings the last as a sea chanty, “eat till their bellies are full, ho!” Jim manages a tight smile. His Sandra is still in there…somewhere. He spots Billie Jean entering the room and motions her over to sit with them. Billie Jean sits, hands folded in her lap. Sandra looks at her, one eyebrow raised. Billie Jean slowly opens her hands to reveal one of the birds nestled there. The secrets of the soul are shared in peace…

Earl helps himself to more of the sweet potato casserole. He is one of the seven men who sit with Margie at a double table. He’s sweet on her but then again, they all are sweet on her. In her mid-80s, a firm grip on reality and a sly sense of humor, her rollator parked neatly behind her chair, she gives each gentleman an opportunity to sway her with clean jokes or stories of past loves. Earl feels fortunate to be included in the communion of saints at Margie’s table. In his career as a systems analyst for the CIA, Earl has seen a lot of things, kept a lot of secrets. But his secret pain is the hardest to bear. At Thanksgiving, the nights are long, the days short, the loneliness a futile tool for battling despair. Earl ticks off the years in his head since Mattie died, leaving him alone. Back in a day when two men could not, should not, fall in love, two men fell in love. The beauty of youth quickly fades but the need for loving touch never dies. Margie knows his secret and sometimes at night they sit together and hold hands, just being there for each other. Choosing love is choosing grace and choosing grace is the only real power….

Barry, wearing his Vietnam Vet cap, slides onto the piano bench. His wife, Rose Marie, takes her place at the microphone in her wheelchair. Since her stroke, the left side of her body just hangs there, attached but not participating much in the joys of life. The congregation of perishables gathered for this feast at times feel like the birds trapped in that glass cage. But they can still sing. Barry belts out “Fortunate Son” just to prove he’s still a rebel, with Rose Marie trying to mouth the words as best she can. They finish with a flourish, then settle into more audience friendly songs. Thanksgiving is proclaimed for the lost and lonely, the forgotten and the forsaken. Thanksgiving is proclaimed for the families and the soldiers, the confused country and the tired world. Thanksgiving is proclaimed for all we meet along the way. Finally, Barry ends the evening with a solo. The old Tom Kimmel song, SHIPS. “We rest here while we can, but we hear the ocean calling in our dreams…Part of us would linger along the shore, For ships are safe in harbor, But that’s not what ships are for…”

Blessings and peace to you and yours…thanks for giving of yourselves.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.