Thanksgiving is my mother's favorite holiday, a time of warmth and fellowship she has celebrated for almost a century in many different kinds of cold and chill. This Thanksgiving, though, at 97, in a New Hampshire nursing home not far from where I live, her travels are coming to an end; she can no longer move much farther than her room.
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Tony: "Hi, Mom. How are you doing?"
Mom: "Oh, you know...All right. So, tell me, I didn't know you were coming..."
This Thanksgiving, as the pains and pleasures of the present lose their hold on her, she has begun to travel in time...
Mom: "Is it supposed to start at nine?"
Tony: "Is what supposed to start at nine?"
Mom: "The trial! I think I'm scheduled to testify today! I was hoping that you could be here with me..."
Tony: "I am here with you."
Mom: "I'll be testifying here on this ground floor, in the basement section."
Tony: "What are they going to ask you?"
Mom: "What was I doing that night, with whom did I associate, you know. They can pick up anybody if they want to, you know. It's Awful, awful, awful..."
I think it began over a month ago, on September 11. I had been on the road to see her that morning, when the planes crashed into Manhattan and Washington, DC, and the woods of Pennsylvania. By the time I arrived at her nursing home, every radio and television set was turned to the news.
Tony: "Good God."
Mom: "Why are they doing this? Do you have any idea?"
Our visit that day was our last time together in the present.
Woman on Radio: "I believe they have to limit legal immigration, and really screen these people..."
Since then, increasingly, she has returned to the long days and sleepless nights of a November more than fifty years ago, before the coldest Thanksgiving of her life.
Mom: "If I have to go to jail, I'll go to jail. I won't like it, because I know it's not right, it's not true."
I wonder if the news confused her. In some ways, it would be easy to mistake now for then. Like now, America back then after a short interlude of peace, faced a new enemy in the East; like now, the nation back then had become frightened and unsettled, and fearful of enemy agents in its midst.
Back then, a lot of people accused each other of treason, often without proof, often out of fear of not seeming to be patriotic enough themselves. Back then, Mom learned the kinds of things about her character and sense of fair play you never know until they're tested.
Mom: "I'll tell you something, I will not lie. But I'm going to tell the truth, no matter what."
Tony: "You know how long ago that all was, Mom?"
Mom: "How do I know?"
Tony: "Over fifty years ago."
Mom: "What?!...you're not kidding."
Tony: "I'm not kidding. And it happened, it started around Thanksgiving time. And it's all over now."
Mom: "Was it that long ago? Yeah, I'm mixing times."
Tony: "You don't have to worry any more."
Mom: "But I hate to think that you were hurt."
Tony: "I know."
Mom: "They were such bastards!"
Tony: "It was a scary time. 52 years ago."
Mom: "How did I behave?"
Tony: "Very courageously."
Mom: "Oh, good. How were you able to go on, I don't know."
Tony: "Because I had you, and I had my father and because we had each other."
Mom: "It's so far past, so far back, you know...There are some things that are just irreparable. It's a good word, irreparable. You know?"
Like a good mother and friend, I know Mom is trying hard not to leave us.
Mom: "So tell me about the children, that'll be something!"
But her journey, I think, is too compelling to hold her here. It's a journey, as far as I can tell, back, to the moments that made her who she was. Shaped her to the core.
If it must take her from us, then I hope her journey moves swiftly past the doldrums it's now in, and back, to a late New England fall at the start of the century, back to her Russian parents when they were new to this country and America lay before them in its promise, back to her father and his pride in providing for his family. And back to the warm heart and strong arms of her mother, who died the year before I was born and who, as Mother used to tell me, helped and comforted her friends and neighbors, never turned her back on a stranger, cooked for the whole world, and made every day a Thanksgiving.