Here is a short Thanksgiving fable. It is about no one you know.
I repeat, NO ONE YOU KNOW.
A grandfather had scheduled a Thanksgiving visit to his out-of-town family in Oakland. In his 80s, his health isn’t so good – he is on a number of medications, uses a walker, is hard of hearing, and gives himself insulin shots. Sometimes he travels with a helper/companion. On this trip, he was coming by himself.
As usual, the grandfather stays in a hotel. He has a nice dinner with the family on the night he arrives. The next day – the day before Thanksgiving – the family is busy with work, cooking etc. and so makes plans to see him again in the evening.
The afternoon rolls around, and the family calls grandpa to arrange a time to pick him up for dinner. No answer, so they leave a message on his hotel room voicemail.
A couple of hours pass. They call the hotel again and leave another message.
It’s now 5:15 p.m. No return call from the grandfather. The previous day, he had called in the afternoon to verify the time and plans for dinner. If he was napping or distracted today when the phone rang, wouldn’t he have called to find out the plans? The family is starting to worry. The daughter-in-law calls his room about four times. Still no answer.
Now disaster scenarios are coursing through the daughter-in-law’s head. She’s picturing the grandfather passed out in his hotel room, maybe in a diabetic coma. She’s picturing him lying on the bathroom floor – since the morning? since last night? — unable to reach a phone.
Son and daughter-in-law jump in the car, drive back downtown to the hotel. Daughter-in-law quietly packs a magazine and book in her bag just in case they end up in the emergency room. She waits with the car in the passenger-loading zone while son rushes in to the hotel, knocks on grandpa’s door, gets no answer.
Son spends half an hour pleading with various hotel staff to open the room to see if grandfather is in trouble. Finally succeeds.
Family is mostly relieved – no limp body on the bathroom floor! – but not entirely. Where would a hardly-mobile grandfather be at 6 p.m.? He likes to eat early and punctually for his blood sugar; it’s not like him to miss a meal. Family checks the hotel restaurant. No grandpa. Family checks the Vietnamese restaurant down the street. No grandpa.
New sets of disaster scenarios are popping up like baby mushrooms in the daughter-in-law’s mind. Perhaps the grandfather went out for a walk, fell or fainted, and is now in an E.R. somewhere in the greater Bay Area? Should she start calling around to E.R.s?
On the other hand, grandfather has a bit of a history of doing things without telling people. At one memorable family reunion, he switched flights without telling anyone and had two dozen relatives worrying for a good ten hours that he was missing or dead.
Son and daughter-in-law resolve to wait until 8 p.m. before starting to call E.Rs.
Daughter-in-law starts wondering if this is her fault. Should she have called the grandfather in the morning to check in? Should she have rearranged her schedule to meet him for lunch so he wouldn’t be alone all day?
Son and daughter-in-law arrive home and find teenage granddaughter on the phone with a cab driver, who is seeking directions to their house from San Francisco.
Thirty minutes and a $40 cab fare later, grandpa has been returned and everyone is sitting down in a nearby restaurant to Thai food. (Well, not the cab driver, who presumably went back across the bridge.)
It turns out that the grandfather took BART into the city to see, as he put it, “a woman.”
What woman? He’s never mentioned a woman. The family asks about her.
“No, it’s not at a point where I can say anything.”
Daughter-in-law orders a glass of wine. If you could order “stiff” glasses of wine, she would order a stiff one.
Family eats Pad Thai and curry and talks about radar tubes and hitchhiking and eating East Coast versus West Coast crab.
Son takes grandpa back to the hotel. Family makes plans to meet the next day for Thanksgiving dinner – early.
Daughter-in-law is thankful. Okay, yes, she is thankful for the obvious thing, which is that grandpa is alive and well and irritating as ever and not lying on the bathroom floor and nobody will have to spend Thanksgiving in the intensive care unit.
But she is also thankful for her teenage daughter, who may not unload the dishwasher as punctually as might be desired, but always calls home when she makes a change of plans.