· ESSAYS

Brian Cullman

It was 8 or 9 years ago, Thanksgiving morning, and we’d been having breakfast at Cafe Condesa on West 10th Street. A couple at a nearby table leaned over and asked directions to a crummy hotel cafe in the west 50’s. He was Australian and seemed tall; when he got up, it turned out he was even taller. She was French, with long hair that she tossed back and forth.

“They’ll be open even on a holiday, right?” The way he said it, it didn’t seem like a question, more an observation.

We nodded and walked out, then, in tandem, looked at each other, walked back inside and invited them over for Thanksgiving dinner.

It was a small gathering, a few neighbors, my niece from upstate, probably ten people, but still, more than we could comfortably seat at our table, and we didn’t have enough chairs, so I brought over the piano bench. The Australian and his girlfriend showed up and settled in. They’d brought chocolates as well as an art book from a museum they’d visited the day before, a collection of German expressionist art, something they’d clearly wanted for themselves but were willing to sacrifice in the spirit of the day. They were both wearing brightly colored scarves which they kept on throughout dinner

We’d brined a turkey, and it was very good, and we had two different kinds of stuffing and fresh cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes (but no marshmallows on top, thank you very much) and too much wine and not quite enough champagne. Everyone got on well, nobody spilled the gravy, the dogs fell asleep by the stairs, and before long, it was dark.

When they got up to go, he was effusive with thanks and warm feelings, but she looked uncertain.

“You made the day for us,” I told them.

“And for us,” he said. “A real Thanksgiving!”

She still looked uncertain.

“It was lovely,” she admitted. “Very kind of you. But maybe misguided.”

I didn’t respond, and the words just hung in the air.

“In France, we don’t really take in stray dogs,” she said. It came out all wrong, and she tried to take it back, but it was exactly what she meant. “In America, you just….”

And she frowned and tossed her hair back and forth.

“Maybe it’s because we’re a nation of stray dogs,” I ventured

“No.” she said. “No. We are good to our neighbors. If someone is in trouble, we look after them. But we don’t let them into our homes. We don’t. ”

He was embarrassed, and, being tall, his embarrassment was everywhere. He had an arm around her and was guiding her to the door.

“You are kind,” she said, but it wasn’t said as a compliment. There was an edge to it, a warning. “But that kindness may come back to bite you. Maybe not. But maybe.”

When they left, it was getting to be evening. It was dark outside, and a wind was starting up. We sat a little longer, looking through the book of German expressionist art. There wasn’t much to clean up, so we didn’t.

If warmth and hospitality, if welcoming strangers into our lives and into our homes is our weakness, it is also our strength.

Maybe our greatest strength.

 

- Brian Cullman, the Dordogne, Thanksgiving 2020

Brian's Thanksgiving Playlist

Now Be Thankful :::: Richard & Linda Thompson

Thankful N’ Thoughtful ::: Sly & The Family Stone

Gracias a la Vida ::: Yasmin Levy

Let’s Give Praise & Thanks ::: The Melodians

Stuffy Turkey ::: Thelonious Monk

Thanksgiving Prayer ::: William Burroughs

Thank You ::: Ijahman Levi

It’s A Beautiful Day Today ::: Moby Grape

Thanksgiving Moon ::: DW Smith

Thank You Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Again ::: Dr John

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