• Gary Seigel

The Man Who Talked Too Much At Thanksgiving by Haskell Hodge

(Today's blog from Haskell’s Journal, dated November 24, 1966, shares his feelings about politics at the dinner table.)

At Thanksgiving last week, my aunt made the mistake of asking for a volunteer to give the prayer.

“I’ll do it,” Mr. DeWitt said.

My uncle invited an old Army buddy for dinner, a very nice gesture, I suppose. He said his children were at his ex-wife’s house in Reseda, and he had nowhere to go.

Now there were thirteen of us cramped around the dining room table, and I sensed trouble the moment I spotted a little pin on the lapel of his gabardine jacket that said, Back LBJ in Vietnam.

“Dear Lord,” DeWitt began, “please bless this food we have in front of us and Lord, protect our troops in Vietnam. Create peace and harmony and bring a just end to this war.”

So far so good, right?

“And Lord?” Here it comes. “I think, with absolute certainty, we are winning this war, but if you could make it go a little faster, maybe give us one or two big, heaping battles and wipe those gooks off the planet before they kill any more of our wonderful boys, we would greatly appreciate it. Thank you, Lord. Amen.”

He smiled as he examined the faces around the table. No one moved a muscle or said a word. It was if an apocalypse had wiped out the whole bunch of us.

“I’m sorry. Did I offend anyone?” he asked as he pulled a drumstick off the turkey, with both hands. “I just feel the faster we get out of this war the better. General Westmoreland says we must add twenty thousand more troops if we’re going to win this damn thing, which means —you!”

He pointed to me.

“Better put on some muscle on that slim body of yours before you hit the jungle, right?” He said that with a big laugh, as if he were doing a routine on The Ed Sullivan Show.

My cousin — ten year old Hope Teitlebaum —- rolled her eyes and stuck her index finger down her throat, making a loud gagging noise. "Mr. Dimwitt?" she started to say.

Sensing disaster, Aunt Sheila covered her daughter’s mouth with one hand, lit a cigarette with the other, and cleared her throat as she leaned over the table, her face inches from Mr. DeWitt. “Our country not only does not belong in this war, but the war definitely does not belong at this Thanksgiving table, especially with that kind of language, so let me just say this. I am changing the subject. I am not a good cook, as you may have all gathered. I am an assembler, so everything you’re eating comes from the frozen section of the market. I hope it’s all right.”

“Oh it’s delicious!”

“ Sumptuous!”

“Wonderful job, Sheila!”

Everybody chipped in some praise, as if words were like bug spray, killing the giant Mothra in the room.

“Is the turkey okay, Haskell? I know you’re very picky.”

It was a little raw, but I wasn’t going to say anything. The spinach and the creamed corn too had a slight layer of ice . Still, I knew better than complain. “Delicious, Aunt Sheila! You outdid yourself.”

“I’m so glad!” my aunt said as she blew smoke across the table.

Had I the nerve, I would have spoken out loud myself. I had read horrible statistics. The U.S. death toll in the war had already reached over twelve thousand with 74,000 wounded and hundreds of Americans listed as missing or captured.

On TV, every day we saw bodies piling up in black bags, ready to be shipped home on airplanes. So asking God to bless us as we massacre thousands of more innocent people?

That’s absolute craziness.

Of course, I didn’t speak a word of this. I’m not even seventeen. I don’t register for the draft until next year, and instead of speaking my mind, I excused myself. Hope joined me in the den, and we ended up watching a cartoon version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer starring the voice of Burl Ives.

My aunt brought us some pie, but the pumpkin filling wobbled like jelly. It was inedible, so we flushed both pieces down the toilet. When my aunt later poked her head in the door and noticed every morsel gone, she said with a big smile, “Lovely?” I was almost about to tell the truth, but it’s Thanksgiving and a big lesson of the night seemed quite clear. Keep one’s comments to oneself.

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