We Give Thanks

Thanksgiving and New York typically bring the Macy’s parade to mind. As tolerant as I am of large crowds, however, going into Manhattan to look at floats and large balloon characters does not float my boat.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2012
CBS News

So I was game when a friend suggested that we volunteer somewhere and another found an Occupy site in Brooklyn for preparing meals for neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Sandy. I know that organizations need volunteers far more on other days of the year—since everyone and her dog shows up at Thanksgiving—but we figured that we could at least take some groceries over.
The plan was to get to the site in Bay Ridge by 8:30; since I live in Queens and the trains were running on a weekend schedule, that meant leaving home 90 minutes earlier. But having decided to shampoo my hair that morning, then having dropped and broken my hair dryer, and having a mortal fear of going out in cold weather with wet hair, I was definitely behind schedule when 7:00 a.m. rolled around. (I always imagine I’ll catch a chill and die, like some woman in a nineteenth century English novel, so I had to delay my departure till a thorough toweling of my scalp had reduced the threat of death-by-wet-hair.)

Walking to the 7 and then switching from the 7 to the R would have been the quickest route to the site since the R is shaped like a C with a tail. It curves from Queens to Brooklyn after swooping through Manhattan and then heads south to the water. But post-Sandy, the R is only running in two sections: from Queens to Herald Square and then from Jay Street Metrotech into Brooklyn.

So I took the 7 to the F, which was packed with commuters into Manhattan (presumably to see the parade). The crush eased a little after that and I dozed as we rumbled underground and then surfaced to the morning sun into Brooklyn. Having gotten off the F to switch to the R, I found that my friends who live around the corner from the station had yet to leave their apartment so I headed over there instead.

After getting more groceries—in a surprisingly quiet supermarket—and breakfast on the go, we were on the R headed south, a rattling journey that ends at 95th. Walking to the site, we entered a bustling church filled with industrious workers and large groups of volunteers waiting to be put to work.

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After handing over the groceries, and locating a less tardy friend—who was already busy hacking away at raw turkey—we milled around for a while before being asked to clean a large cooler. Having Lysoled it to kingdom come, we stood around for a while again, gazing longingly at the tables where people were painstakingly chopping herbs, coring fruit, labeling serving trays, organizing donated canned food, and peeling heaps of garlic.

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When we finally found ourselves at a table to carve grilled turkey, there was a collective beam of delight. Despite the competition from a rival table (with three children under 10!), we sliced up some birds grilled on site, critiqued the donated, cooked ones—or not quite!—and debated whether to include the packets of drippings.

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Some of my table-mates even risked the wrath of the on-site chefs by asking them to heat up a donation of pre-sliced meat shaped to look like a turkey breast. P.S. Don’t do that—chefs are temperamental and processed stuff makes them homicidal.

We took a break to eat rice and veggies (and pie), went back for more carving, and danced in place when ordered. By 1, the place was emptying out as orders were loaded up for delivery to Coney Island and serving kitchens elsewhere.

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So we headed out for a walk by the ocean near the Verrazano-Narrows, the best name for a bridge ever, one of my friends noted. I concur.

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The Shore Parkway, a long promenade that hugs the south-western edge of Brooklyn is a beautiful stretch for walking and biking.

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We passed joggers paying early penance for the food fest that was sure to follow later in the day and a friend took a picture of a Russian woman who was rigorous about her photographing requirements.

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The sun gleamed benignly, leading to a loosening of scarves and unzipping of jackets.

After about 3 miles, we paused for a few minutes at the Brooklyn 9/11 memorial, staring out at the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan across the water.

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Walking up to the R at 69th, we rode to my friends’ apartment to share some wine. Then it was back on the F to Cobble Hill for me, where I spent most of the evening getting to know another friend’s friends, plus two dogs, two cats, one infant, three toddlers, and one teenager.

There was no partridge in a pear tree, it being too early for that, but there was turkey, tofurky, cod, potatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus, zucchini, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, stuffing, gravy, sweet peppers, cucumbers, olives, icecream, pies, apple crumble…my hands are cramping as I type.

A combination of rising early and eating too much meant that I was half asleep on the ride home, which was a long haul on the G and a swap at Court Square to the 7. A brisk walk from the station woke me up long enough to be able to brush my teeth.

So I went to bed thankful for all my teeth since I would have been a toothless hag if I had lived to see my thirties in most other centuries. I am thankful for being able to afford food whenever I am hungry. I am thankful for friends and family who put up with my shortcomings and remind me of the larger civic role we must play to contribute to social justice. I am thankful for first responders who would put their bodies on the line to protect others. I am thankful for trains, which carry millions home.

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