By Howard R. Wolf
I have an antique sea chest that I brought back many years ago from Hong Kong, where I was teaching before the territory and its guarantee of autonomy burst into flames.
I keep special items in it, including an embroidered “thinking cap” that my father’s father, Solomon, made for me. He wasn’t educated, but possessed some wisdom, and I put it on when I need to do some serious thinking.
In this instance, it was the run-up to Thanksgiving. What would be some appropriate thoughts for one of America’s few traditional holidays, a holiday that has no religious, ethnic or racial associations, no ceremony that separates one group of Americans from others?
In fact, celebrating Thanksgiving – which means no more or less than having a traditional dinner with friends and family – is a festive ritual that helps define us as Americans, whether our ancestors landed here from England in 1640 or last year from Burma (Myanmar).
I was determined to write something about the plight of the homeless, including veterans, during this time of year and what it must feel like for them to know that others will sit by a groaning board near a fireplace in a dining room filled with the aroma of a roasted turkey.
Then my daughter called to say that she, her husband and three teenage boys would visit for a week from faraway, so I took off my thinking cap.
I knew that thought, alone, wouldn’t be a sufficient resource to deal with the invasion of these vital boys who live in a place where they do a lot of camping and hunting with bow and arrow, though they will admit, if pressed, that they’ve never managed to hurt a living creature.
After I took off my thinking cap and stowed it in the chest, along with the possibility of gaining some wisdom and adding to the quality of American life (not easy these days), I had a shot of Buffalo Trace bourbon and braced myself for what might come to pass or come through the pass.
It didn’t take long for my house to be transformed into a version of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show: A tent was set up in the basement; a cork bulletin board had become an archery target, and quite a few rubber darts were suctioned against the ceiling like stalactites.
Some BB guns had been smuggled in along with pellets, so that I rolled along the floor as I made my near frictionless way to the washing machine that never stopped tumbling, a form of perpetual motion.
I tried to have some secret conversations with my daughter about chaos in which I suggested – knowing I was doomed to defeat – that it might be better for all concerned if the boys had some quiet time in which we read issues of National Geographic on “Do Dogs Dream? If So, Of What?”
“The boys need exercise,” she said.
I had lost this skirmish, but wasn’t yet defeated. I was determined somehow to regain the upper hand and to restore order, so I put on my thinking cap when they were asleep.
It then came to me with the simplicity and profundity of a fortune cookie: “Enter their world, but not in the basement!”
I spent the rest of the week taking them to driving ranges, putt-putts, gyms and wood chopping contests. After a few days, they begged me to let them have a rest period.
What is the lesson for Thanksgiving? Get, or knit, yourself a thinking cap before the family arrives. You may need one!
Howard R. Wolf puts his thinking cap to good use.