I know where the Parkers will spend this Thanksgiving, and you can bet there will be leftovers. They’ve learned their lesson.
Can’t blame them, really, for what happened a few years ago. That Thanksgiving—2011, if I remember right—was the first one Clay and Dorothy Parker spent on their own. Their kids had come in all the years before, two sons and a daughter, their own kids and spouses in tow. Clay isn’t sure how it came to be that his children had ended up flung all over the country, other than that modern bit of philosophizing a lot of parents offer: “They got out of college and had to go where the work was.” In this case, “work” meant Oregon and Wisconsin and Texas. All three are a long way from Virginia.
The Parkers tried, I’ll give them that. For five years they all gathered on the hilltop where Clay and Dorothy live, the driveway full of rental cars and castoff luggage, what was now four families trying to reconnect as one. But on that Thanksgiving of 2011, that all changed. One son had promised his wife they could visit her family that year. The other son became snowbound. And the daughter? Well, I guess lawyers are too busy some years to pause and give thanks.
So it was just Clay and Dorothy in that big old house on the hill, trying to pretend things didn’t seem so cold and lonely. Didn’t make sense for Dorothy to cook a turkey that year. Or make the stuffing. Or even the peanut butter pie. Clay got the idea that his wife had been cooking Thanksgiving dinners for almost forty years by that point, so maybe he’d just give Dorothy the year off. The two of them would instead head down to the Cracker Barrel by the interstate for Thanksgiving. Have someone else cook and clean up for a change. And friend, let me tell you this: Dorothy jumped all over that.
Turned out they weren’t alone. I’d always thought a restaurant would be a lonely place come Thanksgiving day (and so did the Parkers, both of them told me the same), but the Cracker Barrel was full to bursting that day. People everywhere, and all in a fine mood. Clay and Dorothy would never say so to their kids and grandkids, but I have it on good authority those two had the best Thanksgiving of their lives. Until that night, anyway.
You see, Clay’s a snacker. Always has been. Dorothy’s always on him about it, says the man will eat a dozen bad meals a day instead of three good ones and it’ll put him in his grave sooner or later. I won’t say much to that. I’m a snacker, too. But when he came down the steps that evening and took a left into the kitchen, thinking there wouldn’t be anything in the world better than a cold turkey sandwich with a little bit of cheese, there wasn’t any. Wasn’t any stuffing, either. And you might as well forget about that last piece of pie, because there wasn’t any pie to begin with.
And that’s when it hit him. All the joy that had carried him through that Thanksgiving, the laughing and the talking and the little sighs Dorothy gave as she thought about all those dishes she didn’t have to wash, that all faded away. Because, you see, Clay and Dorothy had just eaten and gone. No leftovers.
Big deal, you might think. And you’re right, maybe it isn’t. After all, leftover turkey is one of those things best left alone. My experience, anyway. But I’ve never forgotten what Clay said to me when I saw him down at the gas station a few days later, right after I’d asked how his Thanksgiving had gone and gotten more than I’d bargained for:
“Just ain’t the same without the leftovers, you know?”
I didn’t. But I’ve thought about it a great deal since, and now I think I do. By definition, a moment never lasts. It’ll all end at some point and give itself over to the next, and there’s no way of knowing if that next moment will measure up to all the bright and good in the one before. Like Thanksgiving at the Parker house. For one day a year, Clay and Dorothy have a family again. No need to email or Skype or talk on the phone, all their kids—all their life—is right there beside them. And even after those kids are left, Clay can sit down with his turkey sandwich and his little bowl of leftover stuffing and remember it all.
That’s what leftovers are to him. It’s his way of living a great moment all over again.
I saw him the other day, down at the bank. Said everybody was coming in this year, even his daughter the lawyer. Clay’s excited, and I’m excited for him. Dorothy wasn’t there. She was home, Clay said, cooking already. Had a whole list of things she wanted to make.
And then he smiled, thinking of all those leftovers.
In case you missed it, my friend and fellow author Amy Sorrells was kind enough to interview yours truly about my latest novel, In the Heart of the Dark Wood. She’s even giving away a free copy of the book. You can find both over at her website.