I had two Thanksgivings this year. One was late in the day with my family. The other was earlier at the Newton Senior Center. I went to the Center to help out – set up, serve, and get things back in order after it was over. I also went to say hello and welcome everyone as the Chairperson of the Newton Council on Aging.
I had never been to the Senior Center for Thanksgiving dinner. I just never thought about it. Under regular circumstances, I would be with my family. This year because of work and other obligations my personal celebration would begin around 5:00 p.m. Since I had recently moved and living in controlled chaos without much cooking equipment, I was not hosting the day. All I had to do was bring an apple pie (bought) to my children’s home. This gave me the whole day to do another Thanksgiving.
I got to the Senior Center before most guests arrived and Jayne Colino, Director of the Department of Senior Services, was there with an entourage of family members, friends, and volunteers all of whom came to do the same thing – serve Thanksgiving dinner.
There are definite stages to any kind of special meal and I get satisfaction from each of them. When I walked in, tables and chairs for about 50 were already set up. Table cloths, flowers, water pitchers, cups, and napkins were in place. This was the phase when everything looked orderly. There was a lovely anticipatory calmness as people made sure that necessary items were out. One of my jobs was to put containers of cranberry sauce, evenly spaced, around the tables. As I completed this task, people began to appear. Cheeses, vegetables, dips, crackers, sodas and apple cider were ready for them in the reception area.
The more energetic and noisier phase was next. As people sat down I, with the others, began to serve dinner. Jayne’s husband, Dan, and Timothy Braceland were in the kitchen putting turkey (magically and precisely cut up), mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, gravy, and a roll on real plates. The food had been prepared and donated by Whole Foods. Even though I was going to have my own major meal later in the day I tried small bits of everything – fresh and fantastic!
Throughout the meal I responded to requests for more gravy or dark meat, and talked. There were mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, friends and companions, siblings, individual men and women, and even an alderman. There were younger elders and older elders from diverse backgrounds – all there together. I loved the conversation and clamor – no time for reflection but a lot of energy to feel and absorb.
The next phase happened gradually as the eating and requests slowed. At this point Jayne welcomed everyone, introduced the volunteers, and I said how wonderful it was to be there. Mayor Setti Warren came, said hello, and shook hands. His wife and young son were there too.
The final phase was after pie and ice cream when people gradually started to leave with plates of traditional leftovers. Now it was clean-up. Some don’t like this part but I do. I enjoyed putting things back in order – clearing away messy table cloths, rinsing plates and putting them in the dishwasher, and bringing rooms back to their usual state. I realized that on Friday when people came to the Senior Center some would not know what a wonderful thing happened there the day before.
Those few hours with everyone had an unexpected and powerful impact on me. I was tremendously moved by many things: Jayne Colino’s determination to give seniors the best possible experience; efforts of volunteers (mostly her family) who worked for hours; Whole Foods’ real, home-like feast; Cabot’s ice cream; the city of Newton; and the people who ventured out for a shared encounter. Each one of these pieces – individuals, families, businesses, and government are not stand-alone entities. Together we made a package – a powerful community package. I knew when I left for my personal dinner it would be another type of celebration. I have a community with my family which is private and contained within our collective lives and consciousness. But at the Senior Center that Thanksgiving Day we created a different kind of community, one that was more public, multi-layered and richly textured. I had a glimpse of what terrific things happen when diverse people, often strangers to each other, come together in unity for a significant, common purpose. Together, with a little effort, we all made a difference in each other’s lives. I was and will continue to be endlessly thankful that I am part of it all.