A Thanksgiving Story (Maybe)

I'm not sure if this is about Thanksgiving or not. Mostly it's about Debbie.

When my son, David, graduated from college years ago, he came home and took a job at Johns Hopkins University. He set his sights on vet school, so this job was interim at best. But there was a surprise waiting. Debbie.

They were an unlikely pair from the start. She was much older, never married, and a lover of cats and monkeys. She was bubbly and an avid reader and extremely religious. They became friends.

As Thanksgiving approached that first year, David asked if we could invite Debbie. There was nothing unusual in the request, as we held a long tradition of an open table. It had seen some of my former students, college friends of my kids, neighbors, and several people whose names have now been washed away with time.

Debbie seemed thrilled, and she fit right in. She brought a flower arrangement in a wicker cornucopia, which I placed in the middle of the table. She was a perfect guest, really. She talked to my parents about growing up in New York City. She got right down on the floor with the little kids and played Legos. And as easily as she did those things, as I got to know her, she was not shy with words like "depression" or "medication." She allowed you to get the whole picture of who she was.

Even after David got accepted to vet school and left Baltimore, Debbie still came to our house on the day the turkey was carved.

And then, on a nondescript evening while I was watching TV, the phone rang. A woman identified herself as someone who worked at Hopkins. "We need to get a message to David," she said. "Debbie committed suicide." The woman cried, apologized for crying, and then cried some more.

At Debbie's funeral, the minister invited anyone who wanted to tell a story to come to the pulpit. Almost everyone who spoke told a tale that involved a holiday. "She was always with us at Christmas," a friend said through her tears. "We shared many Thanksgivings," said another. By the time the speeches were finished, I wondered if Debbie had ever taken her last bite of pumpkin pie at our house and then driven to her second (or third) Thanksgiving in another neighborhood. Everyone loved her. She lit up a holiday table, apparently all over town.

Today I'm deep in preparations. Along with Pilgrim candles and my fancy napkins, I take Debbie's cornucopia out of the closet. I picture the group that will congregate in a few days. And this is the moment, every year, when I get sad all over again that I won't see her there. But then, when I put some gourds and Indian corn inside it and look at it in its place of honor, I can so easily remember the best thing she always brought to the table -- her.

So I guess this is a Thanksgiving story after all. Thanks to Debbie. And thanks for Debbie.