11/15/2011 04:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


A recollection in real time, written as an IM chat on gmail with my friend and fellow Marinprov improviser Charles Souby.

(At the time the only things I was grateful for were my thumb, and the satin edge of my blankie, but, as you can see, I was also sorry to be squinting in direct sun, and am giving my mother the wrong finger for foisting the fauxhawk and unfashionably oversized collar on me.)

4:31 PM
Charlie: I have to take a nap in 15 minutes. You asked me for one word about Thanksgiving--Turkey. Go.

4:32 PM
DwH: As a child I was often called a turkey. I'm not sure why. I don't look like one, other than being somewhat round. OK very round. But since I've never tanned, I lacked the rich golden brown of advertisement turkeys.

Tiny intellectual that I was, I'd try to outthink the bullies, telling them the story of how what's his name, with the kite in the rain and electricity stuff, a forefather, what is his name... Ben Franklin (I had a better memory as a kid) wanted the turkey to be the American bird, because it was regal.

They had no idea what I was talking about, and instead, suggested I be stuffed and roasted.

I was already stuffed, and growing up in inland San Diego, where it was always hot, even at Thanksgiving, was roasting, too.

4:33 PM
My memory of my childhood is bad--I don't know if I blocked it out or I just generally have faulty wiring, which is how it seems lately, but I remember thanksgivings in San Diego when it would be 100 degrees outside and nobody would really want to turn on the oven. Sigh.

4:37 PM
But given that it was one of the few days in the year when my family actually sat down to eat together, it seemed like the necessary thing to do. For some reason I seem to remember that one year we had chopped liver for turkey, which was bad for me since I despised the smell of onions and liver (though now I would find it quite amusing and tasty to have a "Liveruky" kind of formed turkey out of chopped liver).

4:38 PM
So, back to my family who rarely are together. We had a "special" dining table in the living room, and I remember we used it about three times in the 18 years I was there, which was one time more than we used the fireplace.

It was hard to use that table because the living room was carpeted with this thick white shag that kind of looked like giant alien blades of albino grass and if you dropped food on it you might as well recarpet the entire planet.

And, it was hard to eat with my father who would inevitably bellow "CHEW WITH YOUR MOUTH CLOSED!" never missing an opportunity to help inform my impressionable young friends who are still traumatized to this day.

4:39 PM
As a kid I wasn't really grateful for much. I should have been, since I was never hungry (which was obvious from looking at me), we had a "candy drawer" in the kitchen (sometimes used in lieu of meals, Reese's peanut butter cup, anyone?), and my mother never made me go to school (hence my spelling).

But I didn't look like any of my friends, or a Ken doll, so I thought there must be something very wrong with me, and bad genes aren't something kids tend to feel grateful for (even if the genes are good enough for them to see and hear and walk and all those things we should be grateful for but only aren't when we discover they can go away).

4:40 PM
Then, like so many kids, when I left home, which I was itching to do, I realized how good I had it, and I was itching to move back, which I never did, mostly because my mother promptly sold the house to make sure there was no place for us to move back to.

4:41 PM
Jump ahead about 30 years to the first time I was truly thankful--which is when I was dying.

4:42 PM
I'd lost a lot of blood and I could hardly move and the doctor said my organs were going to shut down unless I got a transfusion. I didn't want a transfusion, but I also didn't want my organs shutting down as I'd grown fond of them, especially certain ones.

4:43 PM
So I got a transfusion, and sat for six hours while somebody else's blood dripped into my veins. Talk about Thanksgiving, I felt like a Macy's day balloon--all inflated with the blood of strangers who were good enough to donate it.

(I should add that before I got sick I donated blood every few months, but when I did I never thought about my blood dripping into someone else's grateful body)

4:44 PM
And, I have to say, even before that, when I couldn't leave my bed--I was grateful I had a bed, grateful I had a view of bamboo, grateful for saltine crackers which were about the only thing I could eat, grateful if I was going to die I could do it at home, grateful to have lived.

4:45 PM
When I didn't die, I promised myself a bunch of things--some of which I stuck with--and one was to be grateful every day that I had another day.

4:46 PM
I've had 12 years of "another days" and while they're not always easy, I try to be grateful, for as long as I can manage it. Sometimes I can only manage to remember, "Oh, I was able to get out of bed, now I have to face a lot of crap," which doesn't sound all that grateful but sometimes it's the best I can do--I mean, I'm not Oprah.

Other days, I can be grateful for the people around me, the beauty of the world, the joy of life--all the stuff you're supposed to be grateful for but so easily forget.

OK, Charlie--it's been 15 minutes. Go nap. Thanks for listening.

You're already asleep, aren't you?

Charles: not at all. Good story. I'm learning, etc.

me: Bye

(The title "Sorry-Grateful" comes from the Stephen Sondheim's song from "Company," my favorite line of which is:

"Good things get better, bad get worse
Wait, I think I meant that in reverse"