Saturday, November 25, 2006

If you want to end war and stuff, you've got to sing loud.

It has long been a tradition in my family to listen to "Alice's Restaurant" on Thanksgiving. It all started about 19 Thanksgivings ago (that's 19 years ago on Thanksgiving), when my aunt and uncle were visiting us in Newport News, and together with me, a high school boyfriend, and my parents, we got talking about that song, how it takes place on Thanksgiving, and about how we should listen to it on Thanksgiving. And so we did: some people were sitting in chairs, and others were sprawled on the floor, and we were all full of turkey. Full bellies did not stop the giggling and the singing, though. And given my family's tendency to multiply jokes with repetition, it was not long before "I wanna keeuhl!" became the repeated line around the Parcheesi board.

Now when my family celebrates Thanksgiving it is usually done with another family, who have become like family over the years. This is no ordinary Thanksgiving celebration. Everything starts on Tuesday night with Dungeness crab, brought fresh in suitcases by the family members flying in from San Francisco, who until the wine-buying options in Newport News recently improved, also brought with them several cases of wine. (There was one sad year when all the suitcases made it through except the one with the crab.) Then on Wednesday it is over to my parents' house, where my mother constructs a striper feast. November is prime striper season, as you may know, and there is one person in our clan who used to fish for it all the time before he moved inland to Kentucky. Now we all benefit from his nostalgia, because she has a mighty fine crumb topping that she bakes on it. This year, I understand, there was fish leftover for the first time in my memory. Then Thursday is the turkeystravaganza, usually featuring something like 30 people, all in one dining room. After dinner there is always the mother of all napkin battles, followed by Christmas crackers and everyone wearing paper crowns while reading dumb jokes aloud.

Then we adjourn to the living room to find bits of chair or floor, for the ritual listening. Some people have a hard time keeping from saying the lines along with Arlo. There is significant eye contact when he says, "Let me tell you about the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts." Then at the end we all rouse ourselves from triptofan dreams to sing along.

In fact last year at the PP's and my wedding, when the DJ was seeming not to show up, we thought perhaps we could have everyone sing something together--something everyone would know the words to. What we came up with was
You can get anything you want
At Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want
At Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
And you can get anything you want
At Alice's Restaurant.

Can you imagine 100 people standing up at our wedding, singing a bar of "Alice's Restaurant," and sitting down? Friends, it could have been a movement--but the DJ did show up.

But back to Thanksgiving. This year, we had a small group here at our house--myself, the PP, his mother, his sister, a longtime friend of mine from work, her husband, and their bitty baby. We had crab appetizer, a beautiful turkey, cranberries, two kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, pumpkin pie, and carrot cake--and wine. But this was not the occasion for Alice's Restaurant.

But fortunately last night we went over to other friends' house, where there was a veritable family and friend posse. They had leftovers and we had leftovers, and bottles of wine were opened for the cause, and together we ate another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat. Then after pie, we adjourned to a living room, moved parts of wooden train sets aside, and pulled up chairs and floor for the ritual listening. It turns out that someone else there had had this as a family ritual, so she and I were always giggling in advance of the same expected pleasure of a storyline known too well.

Given the situation in Iraq, I don't think we made much progress on ending war and stuff, but it was good to know we had done our part. And even though we were not singing in unison with the crowd in Newport News, I'd like to think we had a bit of a doppler effect massacree going on. With four-part harmony. And feeling.


Anonymous said...

Why do you always have to bring tears to my eyes with your writing?

I love that you wrote about our thanksgiving, your thanksgiving and Alice's Restaurant. According to David, there was an article in the *Wall Street Journal* talking about the great numbers of people who share the ritual. I think you could say that the song resounds around the nation!

Glad you had a good T-day, twice.


Rebecca said...

A few radio stations in CT play Alice's restaurant, so my parents have the annual ritual of my mom rolling her eyes while Dad and Karen listen and sometimes sing along.