It’s Thursday, November 22, 2018.
It’s the 55th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination.
November 22 can be other days – it’s Thanksgiving this year. But to people my age and older, it can never not be the assassination anniversary – thus retriggering the memories of a nation united in shock and sadness.
But – as I said – it’s also Thanksgiving.
Up until a few years ago, I tended to downplay this holiday.
A lot of that had to do with the fact that I worked the following day. Let me restate that: I worked starting in the middle of the night and into the early part of Friday afternoon.
That day is, of course, Black Friday. I organized coverage of the irrational shopping frenzy that caused people to line up at stores to get one of maybe four big-screen TVs at a megaretailer for a giveaway price. Or to stagger through a Toys R Us – RIP – to get one of the few remaining manifestations of that year’s hot holiday toy.
I’ll admit it – it was a blast. I worked with great reporters. We tried to create a party atmosphere in the newsroom, and we put up story after story starting at 6 a.m. It was slightly different from the usual assignment – and they all looked for and found the fun of what they were doing.
But now that I’m not doing that any more, I’ve had time to think about the Black Friday phenomenon.
The fact that, in recent years, it has diminished the prior day.
Stores opening at 6 p.m. on Thursday – or even all day – make Thanksgiving less of its own holiday and more of a Christmas pregame place holder.
Now that I’m out of the maelstrom, it seems like a shame.
Christmas will be the focus of every single day for the next 33 days. Why can’t Thanksgiving have Thanksgiving, and Black Friday wait until, let’s say, Friday?
I have fond memories of my Black Friday days in journalism.
But I also have fond memories of Thanksgiving.
I’ve thought a lot about them in the past few days leading up to this one.
I’ve thought about Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house was this amazing ritual meal, starting with chicken noodle soup from a box mix – Mrs. Grass, which I guess still exists.
I’ve thought about the fact that few of the people at that meal are still here – and how much I miss the ones who aren’t.
I’ve thought about my first Thanksgiving as a college student. How I was obsessively homesick and practically kissed the ground at LaGuardia when I got home.
I’ve thought about the fact that I never went home for Thanksgiving again. How I found friends in my dorm and spent great weekends hanging with them. How a friend from my college radio station met me on the night before at Union Station as I visited Chicago from my newspaper internship in Michigan.
I’ve thought about working on Thanksgiving Day and covering the Macy’s parade for the AP. One year, I took my little brother because a colleague who was doing a story about carrying the balloons got tickets.
I’ve thought about my daughter’s first Thanksgiving and the fact that it coincided with the two weeks she actually liked Gerber strained green beans. And how that fact bothered my dad, who so wanted to feed her turkey and mashed potatoes.
I’ve thought about my mother-in-law’s fried shrimp. If they didn’t seem like Thanksgiving food when I first saw them, they sure seemed like it after about the 15th one.
I’ve thought about my two kids making their way home from college. How neither of them is spending the day with us because they’ve got other lives. One of them is 7,000 miles away working in Incheon, South Korea, where it isn’t Thanksgiving at all.
I’ve thought about the food my wife and I prepared for tomorrow, and how it’s something we’ve done in various iterations since 1985.
After all that thinking, I’ve realized something this year that I overlooked for a long time working all those crazy hours in the predawn darkness.
Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving. It’s not – or it shouldn’t be – Black Friday Eve.
The idea of being thankful – for family and friends who are here, who are away and who have passed – should get its own space in our spirit.
It’s just a nice idea. It feels good to remember loved ones and friends, and to know there are people in your life who matter more than the weirdness of the day-to-day.
So this Thanksgiving, I’m thinking more about being thankful.
For my grandmother making the Mrs. Grass soup, and Jared, Michela and Mom for sticking around.
For my dad getting me at the airport.
For Andy who went to dinner with me in Evanston and Jonathan for being at the train station.
For Seth being a awestruck little kid at the parade and Susana for the tickets.
For Megan for loving green beans those exact two weeks.
For my mother-in-law making those shrimp – and that sweet-and-sour sauce that went with them.
For Parija and Jessica and Hibah and the rest of the team on those crazy Black Friday mornings at CNN.
For Aaron hanging in there in South Korea.
For Angela making the stuffing and laughing along the way.
And to everyone else who has given my life its fullness.
Christmas – which I also love – will come soon enough.
Today is Thanksgiving – and for that, too, I’m thankful.