This Thursday, there will be groaning tables all over the country who are missing a dad, a mom, son or daughter; there will be tables with an extension for the wheelchair at the head. There will be meals eaten at the bedside at Walter Reed/Bethesda, at Fort Belvoir and Brookes Army Medical Center.
This Thursday, there will be mess halls around the world trying to bring a touch of home to military members and contractors stationed far from home. At some stateside and overseas mess halls, families are going to be standing behind the steam tables to make sure that everyone gets seconds/thirds and to give the cooks a holiday too; to share their holidays with the troops that can’t get home. There are families opening their homes to servicemembers far away.
This Thursday, I will get on Metro and head to the apartment of a very old friend. I’ll sit at a lovely table, set with beautiful china and crystal, eat until I can’t eat anymore, and then wend my way home with a doggie bag to share with the cats. I will hopefully start the day off Skyping with my husband downrange, who will have eaten at the mess hall earlier. A general will probably be at the mess hall to serve a few meals unless some surprise “special guest” is there, surrounded by photographers.
This is the sixth Thanksgiving that we have spent apart in the past 10 years. I have been the extra person at too many tables, spending this quintessential family holiday with friends, or with other “deployment widows.”
My husband is already “looking forward” to the sliced turkey, canned green beans and boxed mashed potatoes with thick “gluey” gravy, and pumpkin pie with aerosol whipped cream. The forced gaiety, the yards of streamer and paper turkey decorations will puzzle many of the United Nations troops who will be joining them on Thursday. The Canadians will smile at the familiarity; those troops from other countries who have never been invited to a “Thanksgiving feast” will ask their American hosts what the history of the holiday is and chow down. The Americans will eat too much, and wish for their comfortable chair and big-screen TV, surrounded by family and friends. But this is not a day off for many, they will eat the meal and go straight back to work; on some of the smaller FOBs they may get a hot meal, but they won’t be letting their guard down.
I remember Thanksgivings of the past, especially those in Germany when we would have an open house for members of his unit, those geographical bachelors or the young single soldiers who had nowhere to go. Those were interesting, listening to the stories of Thanksgivings past for these young men and women. For some our supper was familiar, others yearned for their mother’s cornbread stuffing, their aunt’s pecan pie, the turkey coma with their dad while they watched the big game.
While the rest of the country sits at the table with their friends, I’m hoping they’ll remember those sitting around a mess hall table. While the rest of the country moans about the cold standing in front of the mall on Friday morning, I’m hoping they’ll remember those standing in a guard shack, working in the cold of Camp Wright or FOB Lagman, outside Qalat. I’m hoping they will take a moment and put a toy in the box for the Marine Toys for Tots .
Photo courtesy of DoD. Photographer's Name: SSG Nathaniel Johnson Location: Camp Adder Date Shot: 11/25/2010 Date Posted: 3/3/2011 VIRIN: 101125-A-SN251-002