My brother Richard Eder died last Friday, after a long illness and two final days in the hospital. I have just come from three days with family - his wife and seven grown children, six grandchildren, two great-grands, and assorted mates - and a funeral mass and burial in Mt Auburn Cemetery. We spent the days together in Dickie and Esther’s apartment overlooking Fresh Pond Reservoir in Cambridge, talking, crying, laughing, singing. Lots of coffee and tea and wine, lots of food.
And now I’m sitting in Logan Airport on Thanksgiving Day, with my sister Luli, in front of a television with three bright and smiling news announcers. The airport is fairly empty, the flights are fairly full. They are talking about Black Friday, interviewing a man who’s first in line at a Best Buy. He’s been camped there for a week. ‘What are you planning to buy?’ Two tablets, a laptop, a 55-inch TV...I lose track. And they speak in doleful tones of the dying out of the American Black Friday tradition. The thrill of the deal. Families camping out together. The great tradition is being eroded by sales that begin on Thanksgiving day, Internet Saturday specials and on and on.
Black Friday has never been part of my life. It has been going on for about fifteen years. How can anyone call it a tradition, how can anyone mourn it, even in jest? It is a celebration that horrifies me, a celebration of buying stuff, stuff and more stuff, like eating contests where contestants down 60 hotdogs in ten minutes. I am not alone. Adbusters, a Canadian magazine, promotes Buy Nothing Day, and urges people to stage creative protests in stores and shopping malls. click
For me, Thanksgiving tradition is families coming together from near and far, eating too much of the foods they have always eaten, a long spell of digestion in the living room with desultory conversation, a long walk together, and then a return to the kitchen for sandwiches of leftovers and more slices of pie. It is consumption, but not consumerism. If I had my druthers I’d introduce a custom of going around the table with everybody saying what they’re grateful for. And if I were religious I’d surely include prayers that directed our thanks to God.
Like Thanksgiving, weddings and funerals bring families together. Thanksgiving usually includes somebody aggravating somebody. click Weddings primarily glorify the bride while providing plenty of material for gossip. In my happily limited experience, funerals focus on love and grief. They are a time for family to be kind, to take care of each other. Hearts are open, faces are naked. We remember the dead and dwell on what we loved about them.
I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving this year. I celebrated and mourned my brother, surrounded and supported by the family I love.
Richard Eder image:washingtonpost.com -upi
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