Over the River and Through the Woods by
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Thanksgiving 1999

I first published this story on November 24, 2016 for the prompt Gratitude. At that time we were reeling with the shock of the stolen election and the scary prospect of a Trump presidency. That explains my second section about “the bifurcated family.” Five years later, our country is still bitterly divided, and what I wrote is, sadly, still applicable.


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

Thanksgiving was always the most special holiday in my family when I was growing up. It was the one time of the year when everyone would gather, aunts and uncles and cousins, to spend the day together, eating and talking and enjoying each other. It was the only time all year that we ate in the dining room instead of the kitchen, putting all the leaves in the table so it would seat everyone. It was also the only time we used the good dishes, a delicate Wedgwood bone china that my parents had bought on a trip to England. We would have hors d’oeuvres in the living room first. Olives, marinated mushrooms, smoked oysters, and other delicacies, with brightly colored toothpicks to spear them all. I first tasted smoked oysters as a child on Thanksgiving, and I have loved them ever since.

I’m not sure if we ever talked about politics at the dinner table. It’s possible that we did, especially during the Vietnam Era, but I don’t have any recollections about it. Even if we had, there wouldn’t have been much arguing, since we all had essentially the same political views. It may have taken my father a little longer to get to the point of thinking the war was wrong, but I know he got there, and I don’t remember any trauma related to it. The only family member with a totally different political view was my uncle Ed, who was a rabid pro-Soviet communist. In his eyes, the Soviet Union could do no wrong, to the point where he wouldn’t even admit that there was any anti-Semitism there. He even went to Moscow every spring for the Mayday celebrations. But for the most part, nobody engaged in argument with him. Except for once. I was in college, taking a course about China, and totally smitten with Chinese communism, which was at odds with Soviet communism at the time. He and I had an argument about which was better. But it wasn’t at the dinner table, it must have been before or after. Neither of us convinced the other, but I don’t think there were any hard feelings.

The last of the consecutive family Thanksgivings we had, where everyone in the entire extended family showed up, was in 1977, when my niece, the first baby of the next generation, was six months old. After that it seemed to be too hard to gather everyone at that time of year. Twice thereafter my parents and sisters and I gathered at my middle sister’s house in Colorado, but it didn’t include the cousins. Two decades later, in 1999, we had one more Thanksgiving gathering of everyone (Featured Image), because my nephew’s bar mitzvah was that weekend, so we stuffed ourselves with turkey on Thursday and danced the horah on Saturday. Later on, during the years when my two older kids were in college on the East Coast, and it didn’t make sense to fly all the way across country for four days, they went to my oldest sister’s house in Brooklyn for the Thanksgiving vacation, and my mother was there too, and the rest of the New York branch, and I was very thankful that they still got to have a family Thanksgiving even if I wasn’t there.


At any time of year, I am grateful to have the family I do, both the one in which I grew up, and the one I have formed as an adult. Each member is a loving, thoughtful, intelligent person with whom I enjoy spending time. I am particularly thankful, in the wake of our recent election, that we all share the same political views. Two of my kids have come home this week for Thanksgiving, and last night at dinner they talked about how some of their friends did not want to go home because their relatives are Republicans and supporters of the unmentionable one. The “bifurcated family” has been a big topic on college campuses and elsewhere in the past two weeks. The front page of today’s Sacramento Bee has a story on tension at the Thanksgiving table, with the headline “Dreading heated turkey talk? Take politics off the plate.” EmilyPost.com is hosting a live holiday etiquette hotline on Thanksgiving morning for people who don’t know how to handle political discussions this year. Far more than ever before, political differences could cause permanent schisms now.

It’s nice to know that we don’t have to worry about a scenario like that in our family. Everyone, from my 95-year-old mother to my little great-nieces, is of a like mind about everything important, and I am extremely thankful for that.


Postscript: On Thanksgiving evening, my 30-year-old nephew (the one who had his bar mitzvah in 1999) sent out this group facebook message to our entire family: “My dear, dear family: Happy Thanksgiving to you all! On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful that in our entire family there is not one person who does not think the [2016] election result was horrible. It’s one of the many things that makes our family special and unique. I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I also hope it wasn’t our last.”


2021 Postscript: I am grateful for the vaccine, and for the fact that everyone I know is vaccinated, and we can again celebrate together. I am grateful that we survived the Trump years, although a lot of damage was done. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to sift through my memories while writing Retrospect stories for the past six years, and I am extremely grateful for my wonderful co-administrators, who make planning the prompts so much fun! Finally, I am grateful for Zoom, which has made it possible to connect with family and friends, near and far, during the past twenty months.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: right on!


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love eating turkey on Thursday and dancing the hora on Saturday…nice image. I also understand that many families are dreading coming together today after this terrifying election. Both my kids came home, one of my sisters-in-law is here, and we have a niece and nephew close by at Brandeis. No political squabbles around our table last night or today. We, also, are of one mind. We were talking about what companies to boycott because they supported the Orange Monster, or sell his or his daughter’s products. Dan’s sister even “unfriended” someone on Facebook due to political rants. Lots of political discussions, but no dissent.

  2. Beautifully told, with a rich attention to detail, my favorite being Uncle Ed and his hellbent Soviet passion. How did he get past the Hitler-Stalin pact? But then, so many others did. I also like the image of this young woman in love with Mao arguing civilly about the two different worlds of Chinese and Soviet communism.

    You also captured the dynamics of a family over time, the new generations entering the scene, kids off to college and life, turkey to Mitzvah. A warm description of a big, living family, as rich as a thanksgiving table. Nice!

  3. John Zussman says:

    I’m back from Thanksgiving travels, so I’m enjoying the chance to read and reflect. I’m especially envious of your family’s Thanksgiving unity. For a while the only family we had in California was my curmudgeon uncle, so on Thanksgiving we would dutifully truck up to Berkeley to “celebrate” with him. He was a retired lawyer and loved to argue, just for the sake of it, so he would scope out our position on whatever and then vociferously argue the opposite. I would have been grateful for a family like yours! Pass the gravy!

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for recycling this post, updated, especially since I missed it the first time. I think the bifurcated families are still a thing, unfortunately, and I am also thankful not in my family. And thanks to you for maintaining Retrospect!

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Lots of gratitude for the vaccine and Zoom around our table too, Suzy. And I’m happy to continue writing every week. You’ll even get the stories I’ve written ahead when I’m in London and won’t have a computer.

    Happy Hanukkah, friend.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    A perfect story to re-publsh, Suzy (especially since I wasn’t on Retro back in 2016 to read it the first time). You have so well expressed the “attitude of gratitude” that you felt over the years with your family on Thanksgiving, now brought nicely up to date with your 2021 postscript.

    I can particularly relate to your current thankfulness for vaccines and Zoom and continued fear/distress of the Trumpian stain. And, as you will see from my own story, envy of family gatherings without crazy right-wing relatives.

  7. Good story Suzy!
    In the past we might have some political fighting at holiday gatherings between those leaning left and the few conservatives then in the family.

    But nothing as blatantly horrid as what’s been happening in the past five years, and I’m heartbroken to say we have some cousins who traditionally would join us at Passover or Thanksgiving or Hanukkah who we simply no longer invite – not even on Zoom.

    What Trump has wrought.

  8. Suzy, you had me at olives, marinated mushrooms, and smoked oysters! Also, I have a hard time believing you had a civilized discussion over the merits of Mao vs. Stalin–your uncle must have had a heart that was less “hardline” than his ideology.

    It’s comforting to know that not every family is in need of that “etiquette line” to resolve unpleasant conflicts.

  9. Laurie Levy says:

    We are all very grateful to you, Suzy, for making Retrospect possible. You are lucky your family is politically like-minded. While most of my side is (can’t vouch for one of my nieces and her spouse), my husband’s side is all over the place. Since we don’t all get together for Thanksgiving with them, at least our holiday is politically peaceful.

  10. Although I can see the vestiges of the 2016 version of your story, you moved me with the familiarity, e.g., family that shared and enabled family consensus over the years, from the Vietnam era forward. I grew up in a family like that, and watched plenty of my friends be forced to forge their identity in reaction to their families’ unacceptable culture and politics. Certainly grateful for that, alongside you. Also delighted by your Sovietophile uncle and his annual May Day visits to the USSR. I guess if you could make it through the Hitler-Stalin pact you could make it through everything. I also was moved by your sweet, short, simple list of gratitudes at the end of your post. Very lovely!

  11. Marian says:

    Thanks for the update, Suzy, and I am so grateful to all the new connections made through Retrospect. Love the details about your Thanksgiving gatherings. It felt odd but good in a way for Dick and me to be the “seniors” at our feast this year, and we were very grateful to be in decent health to enjoy it.

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