Saturday, November 28, 2015

T-day dinners and other memories

Here in the US of A we joyfully cram our stomachs full on Thanksgiving Day. We could easily match the excesses of Roman aristocracy if only we had the rumored vomitoriums. Hosts put a lot of care into the meal, and I've never been to a T-day dinner where the food wasn't good. But not every Thanksgiving meal is memorable, in fact few are.

I got to thinking about specific meals that stuck in my mind. One Thanksgiving dinner that stands out is the only one I spent by myself. It was at a diner in Bisbee, Arizona, back in 1975. Another occurred last year when I delivered T-day leftovers to my friends Angie Hodapp and Warren Hammond who had just returned to Denver after a long, long flight from China.

Another remembered meal was when I caught up to my high-school best friend during our time in the army. We spent the afternoon in a Mexican restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia. We ate and drank and ate and drank. Hours passed and dinner over, we expected to stumble into cool night air. But it was still light out and the sun's merciless glare stung our bloodshot eyes.

Another food-related snap shot. During a prolonged and painful period of unemployment, I finished grad school and to celebrate both my master's degree and my expected return to work, I arranged for a dinner with my critique group at a small bistro. The future never seemed so hopeful.

Another military meal. I had just completed the Fasotragulant Navy S.E.R.E. school near Brunswick, Maine. We students--Army Special Forces and Navy aviators--spent days hiking over the wilderness like hunted animals, eating nothing but tree bark and tiny raw trout caught with safety pins. That trial was followed by more uncomfortable days in a simulated POW camp run by a sadistic cadre who never broke character. Late in the afternoon of the last day, a bus rolled up to take us back to the navy base. Dinner included an urn of hot black coffee, another urn of steaming chicken-noodle soup, and a yellow sheet cake, which we stuffed into our faces during the ride to civilization. A humble repast but one of the most satisfying meals of my life.

Years later, I was in Baltimore, Maryland, for Bouchercon 2008. At the time, since I was still in HarperCollins' stable I was invited to their authors-only fancy, schmancy dinner. The other authors included HC's big hardback mystery NYT-bestsellers and international writers who sat with the editors at the big table. Because I was merely a writer of paperback vampire novels, I was shuffled to the equivalent of the little kids' card table where I sat next to Sarah Weinman. Later that night, Jane Friedman, the President and CEO, stopped by to say hello. She not only knew who I was, she even signed my name tag. I decided to keep that tag as a memento of my days with HarperCollins, not realizing that within weeks, Friedman and many of the editors at that dinner would be gone from the company. Ironically, I had outlasted them.

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