To tell you the truth, there is no one else out here whom I more want to be with today. As I get older and experience these milestone holidays in new and changing circumstances, I do miss those meals spent with loved ones long gone. Being with Jerry and Eva is a way to simulate the old feelings.
I couldn’t think of a better thing to share today than this essay I wrote several years ago about one of my most memorable Thanksgivings ever.
It happened when Paul asked me to drive him to Colorado to meet his biological father and a family he had never known:
A Thanksgiving Reunion
Paul became more and more quiet as we neared the small Colorado town where his father Ron lives. You could feel the tension rising in the car—not because of the snowy mountain pass road or even the sight of a Lexus that had skidded off a hairpin turn and now clung precariously on the edge of a cliff—but because Paul was about to meet a family he had never known in his twenty-nine years of life.
When we were within an hour of our destination, we saw a Chinese restaurant and Paul asked, “You want to stop for lunch?” Are you hungry already? “Well, yeah,” he said, “plus, I’m a little nervous.”
After the meal, our waiter brought us fortune cookies. Mine said “Good to begin well, better to end well.” Paul’s said “A family reunion will be a tremendous success!” Paul thought this was pretty amazing and laughed. (I was still puzzling the meaning of mine.)
It was mid-afternoon when we found the house at the top of a mesa. The front door opened and a middle-aged man with a beard and pony-tail emerged. “You must be Paul,” he said, and the two embraced before he invited us in.
“You and I have the same nose,” Paul said. “We do?” answered his Dad a little nervously. “And the same eyebrows, too,” Paul added. “Looks like you got my teeth,” Ron said. “I did?” Paul asked hopefully, and then smiled.
Inside the front door was a narrow table with a framed photograph of a young man with long black hair and eyes and lips much like Paul’s. A blue votive candle burned next to it. This was Gabriel, Paul’s half-brother who had died a year and a half earlier in a tragic accident. Paul’s appearance so soon after the family’s loss of their favorite son was a cosmic coincidence not lost on anyone.
We passed by the closed door of a home office where Peggy, Ron’s wife, worked at her computer until late into the evening. She refused to come out. Ron apologized and said that Peggy was angry with him. “Ron sort of sprung this whole thing on me,” Peggy explained later. “I was also scared to death that Paul would remind me too much of Gabriel. Gabe’s death is something I’m still working through. This all just seemed to throw my holiday plans into chaos.”
Ron, Paul, and I drove to a pizza restaurant, where I spent the evening listening to Paul and his Dad each recount a lifetime of experiences that the other had missed. Paul spoke of growing up in the large family his mother had created with the man who adopted him at age four—a life of farm chores, fort-building, cherry-bomb adventures, and later, fast cars, pretty girls, a marriage that didn’t last, and a cross-country bicycle trek that landed Paul in West Texas. Ron told Paul about his travels around the world, his two marriages, his moves from Arizona to Oregon and now to Colorado where he works as a soil sciences professor at an agricultural research center.
The next day was spent on chores, watching wildlife graze the surrounding hills, playing cards—but mostly waiting for the arrival of Conor, Paul’s twenty-four-year-old half brother who was driving from Denver with his girlfriend Johanna. Paul and I napped while Ron waited up late into the night. Finally, at about one-thirty in the morning we roused ourselves as we heard the muffled sound of car doors slamming. The front door opened, and the two brothers finally stood face-to-face.
“As soon as I saw Paul, it seemed like he was a person I’d known my whole life but had never met,” Conor told me. “He seemed so much like one of us, I just knew he was for real and no con,” Conor said.
Conor and Paul are so much alike, it reminded me of stories you hear about twins who are separated at birth but live parallel lives. Conor and Paul have the same sense of humor. The same political beliefs. They both can watch a movie and remember the dialog word-for-word—and apparently have watched and memorized many of the very same movies. The two shot lines of dialog back and forth, and repeatedly disintegrated into laughter and private jokes that were lost on everyone else.
When the laughter subsided, Conor intimated to Paul, Johanna, and me a recurring dream he’d had since he was ten. “My Dad, Gabe, and me were on a tower, fighting off a big crowd of people who were attacking us. I told Gabe about it, and the amazing thing is he said he’d had the same dream, too. But there were a couple other strange things about that dream. The first thing is that Gabe wasn’t older than me as in real life—he was a little kid. The second thing is that there was a fourth person helping us fight off the attackers. Paul, I’m pretty sure that fourth person was you.”
A little later, I joined Conor on the patio as he smoked a hand-rolled cigarette. “Isn’t this just the weirdest thing?” he asked. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” I replied that this reunion was one of the most positive things I’d ever witnessed.
The night before I’d joined Ron on this same patio as he, too, smoked a hand-rolled cigarette. I’d asked Ron if Paul’s visit made him at all uncomfortable. “No, not really,” said Ron a little hesitantly. “It’s just weird. I only saw Paul once before, when he was just a baby.”
Conor offered a slightly different perspective. “Until now, Paul had only been a rumor. He was a deep, dark secret. It was my Mom, not my Dad, who told me there might be another brother out there somewhere. A few days ago, I talked to Dad on the phone. He was pretty nervous and scared. But now he seems happy. It’s nothing like he’d feared.”
The day before Thanksgiving, Paul’s grandmother arrived bearing bags of fruit and baked goods. After she and Paul embraced, I asked her if Paul looked like one of her own. “Yes,” she answered emphatically, and then immediately began giving orders to Paul and Conor for the unloading of her car.
As the day progressed, the family seemed to close in on itself. It seemed the years of separation, abandonment, and wondering no longer mattered. Genetics overcame all else.
“Good to begin well, better to end well.”
I decided the best way to end my visit was to leave the family to itself on Thanksgiving. So the next morning I said my good-byes to everyone including Paul. He would stay behind and spend the next month in Denver with Conor and Johanna.
“Thanks for bringing me home,” he said as we hugged goodbye. “I feel so comfortable with these people. I feel like I belong.”
The month Paul spent with Conor in Denver turned into more than a year and a half, during which they sailed from San Francisco to La Paz, Mexico at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. Conor and Johanna parted ways in La Paz and Conor subsequently married Isis, his childhood sweetheart; they now have a beautiful and brilliant daughter named Ramona. Paul and Conor remain close to this day as brothers should be.
Groove of the Day
You were thinking, “Please make it klezmer today,” weren’t you?
(Yes, Paul is one of seven brothers.)