Drummond for Council

Drummond for Council

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Blessings of a Shoney's Thanksgiving

As is the tradition, here's my annual post for Thanksgiving - one that I will never forget ...

The Blessings of a Shoney's Thanksgiving

Today is a day to give thanks for all that we have. And for me, it's a time to reflect on one of the more memorable Thanksgiving Days that I've had.

I was 17 and had a car. And my mother saw this as an asset most of the time. I could run errands, take myself to school and it gave me independence. And this particular Thanksgiving Day my ability to be helpful and independent was put to the test.

Typically Thanksgiving at the Drummond house was a family and friend-filled affair. Lots of food, a packed townhouse and blaring television sets with the Macy's parade or football made the day special. My grandparents - Nanny and Pop-Pop - would come over and we'd be joined by relatives who were in town and neighborhood friends that wanted a slice of my mother's spiced pumpkin pie.

But on this Thanksgiving I found myself, eventually, eating at Shoney's - alone. Here's what happened: My mother made a huge spread as usual. All the places were set and I was ready to dig in - then settle in to a chair for a nap - and enjoy our special day. But there was one little problem - my grandparents, both of them, were sick. At least that's what they told us.

"Martha Ann," my Pop-Pop said to my mother. "We just can't make it. We're not feeling so good. You all go on without us."

Now my grandparents were Baptist and we were Episcopalian, but the Catholic guilt my mother felt was heavy.

"No, it wouldn't be the same without you," my mother replied. "Why don't we bring Thanksgiving to you. Daniel can drive over and at least drop off a plate for you and mother."

My Pop-Pop perked up. "That would be wonderful," he said in his Eastern Shore drawl.

And of course, my ears perked up. "So I'm not going to be here for Thanksgiving?" I asked.

"Of course you will. Just drop off the plates, say hi and come back, then we'll eat. Plus, they're sick so they probably won't be much for talking - or eating," said my mother.

And with those words I was dispatched to 1324 Longwood Drive in Norfolk to deliver food and good cheer, thinking all the while that I would return to our townhouse in Virginia Beach for the festivities.

My little red Nissan Sentra was loaded up with - and this is very important to note - two big plates of food. Just two. But I was only dropping the food off and coming back. Right? Wrong.

The drive to Norfolk was wonderful. The smell of turkey, green beans (real ones, dark with ham), pie, stuffing and warm bread filled the air. It was so dreamy. Upon my arrival, I carefully took the aluminum foil covered plates from the back of the car (they had gotten a little stuck on the vinyl seats), went into my grandparent's one story red house and set down the plates in the kitchen.

"Hi Daniel," said my Nanny. Something was wrong. They weren't sick at all. At least they didn't look it. Fully dressed, television blaring, they seemed perfectly fine to me.

"Come on in, let's come to the table and eat, ok ... and where's your plate?" my Pop-Pop asked. It was at that point that I knew this would be a very different Thanksgiving.

Without a plate of food myself I wound up sitting at the dining room table watching them devour every last morsel. Whatever illness they had did not suppress their appetite. Nor their ability to talk my ear off. For two hours, they ate, talked and had a grand old time. I snacked on some Triscuits and chocolate milk.

For some reason I assumed that: 1. My mother would have waited for me to have our own Thanksgiving meal or 2. Make a plate for me so that I could eat later.

"We're done. It's all gone," my mother said when I called to let her know I was coming home. "Folks were really hungry."

No Thanksgiving meal. No plate. As my mother would later say, I was SOL.

"But I'm sure your grandparents really enjoyed your company. How are they feeling?" my mother said, as she tried to comfort me.

"Great. They were never sick from what I could tell. Now they're about to take a snooze," I replied. And with that I had to come up with a plan B. I was determined to still have my turkey, darn it.

Near my grandparents house was an area called Ghent. Lots of neat shops, great restaurants and for my purposes, a Shoney's. It was the only store or restaurant I could think of that would be open. I called. Luckily they were open.

With both Nanny and Pop-Pop about to slumber off, I prepared my exit. "Can I borrow $20?" I asked. My grandfather dutifully pulled out his wallet and gave me the bill. He always had cash and I was always in need. It was a great relationship.

"I'm sorry you didn't get to eat with us," he said. "But at least you get to go to Shoney's!"

Yes, indeedy I did. And in my grandparents eyes going to Shoney's for Thanksgiving was like going to Times Square for New Year's Eve. It was a once in a lifetime event that should be embraced.

And embrace it I did. Pulling up to the Shoney's I was amazed at how many cars were parked out in front. The situation reminded me a bit of when Ralphie's family in "A Christmas Story" had to go out for Chinese dinner on Christmas. There must be something to do this, I thought. Why so many people.

One bite of Shoney's pumpkin pie is one reason. My God was it good ... but I digress.

"Just one?" the waitress asked. "Yep, just me."

At the time I was really into Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau and carried their books with me wherever I went. I also was in the Birkenstock phase and needless to say a little hippie dude like me wandering into Shoney's on Thanksgiving Day was a sight to see. I certainly stuck out among the bikers, truckers and lonely old souls that crowded into this place of warmth and comfort.

The menu was fantastically tantalizing. At the time $20 went a long way and I was going to make sure that it was spent well. Turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie ... you name and they had it. And so did I. After an hour of chowing down, reading my books and sipping hot coffee I decided to head home.

Eating a big meal like I did made me a bit sleepy and I asked for a coffee to go. It certainly helped on the 30-minute drive.

When I got home my mother was still cleaning up. There were some friends who were lingering around and the television set was blank. It was rather peaceful.

"How was it?" my mother asked.

"Delightful. Great meal. Fully paid for," I said.

"You were very kind to go over there and help your grandparents. I'm sure they appreciated it," my mother said.

"No, mom. I appreciated it more than they did. I love them very much and any time I can spend with them, the better," I replied.

And it was true - still is. My late grandparents, in addition to my mother, raised me and help make me the person I am today.

The time I spent with them on that Thanksgiving Day was probably the best gift I could have been given. It taught me about being selfless and also being thankful for the blessings that I have and are too many to count.

So on this Thanksgiving Day as I spend with my little Drummonds, my wife, in-laws and friends, I still think back to that day when I was 17 and ate Thanksgiving alone at Shoney's when I was surrounded by the blessings of life.

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