Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

The Sunday Before Thanksgiving…by Robert M. Katzman

By Robert M. Katzman © Sunday, November 24, 2019

About 35 years ago, when Joy and I were 34, Lisa was 10, David (now Konee) was 7 and Rachel was 5, a tradition was started within our little family. People don’t actually know when traditions start unless they linger through time like this one. This is that story: 

Once upon a time, in 1985 or so, I was on my second marriage with two young children. But when I was much younger and married to another very young and good person, we had a daughter, Lisa. After the 2nd marriage, on Thanksgiving Day, Lisa was home with her Mom and so she couldn’t be with her younger siblings or Joy and me, and it was sad for all of the five of us.

So, on those rare occasions when I had a bright thought, I suggested to Joy that instead of on a Thursday–like the rest of America–why not change things and celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday on the weekend when Lisa was with us? And so “The Sunday Before Thanksgiving” was born, or “TSBTG”.

It began small with the five of us, and was a very lively affair with the children happy with this new American holiday which was uniquely celebrated only in our house, which over time depending where we lived, became a moveable feast. 

It was such a nice time for us, Joy and I made an agreement between us to start inviting very close friends, and maybe a couple of relatives we both liked. 

What this meant was, unlike the rest of the United States where horrible relatives with bizarre personalities HAD to be invited no matter how much they poisoned the atmosphere for everyone else, we had the Freedom of Choice on TSBTG. 

So, therefore this new edict: neither race, religion, politics, gender nor age mattered at all. But if a person was a jerk or a drunk, they couldn’t come to our little party. So, we all had a good time, for decades. About three decades. The average amount of people who celebrated with us became about thirty people. Nice people.

Joy had Multiple Sclerosis and while subtle at first, became a greater factor as time went by. How our original TSBTG holiday evolved was, Joy did all the basic cooking, everyone who was invited brought a dish of something with them, or a dessert, the kids set and cleared the table, and me? I sliced the turkey artfully with my electric knife, then later collected all the trash and washed every single dish. 

A fair division of labor. Fairness was a big factor between Joy and me, and our kids. Not everything in our lives was fair, but between the five of us, it was.

I noticed something as the years went by. Between the time when the first guests began to arrive, like a wave of people pouring through the door, socialized, had dinner dessert and, barely able to walk, began to recede back into the normal world, three hours went by. Every year, three hours. I thought this was some social rule of physics because it never changed. Maybe this is true for everybody.

The original three children? 

Our Tribe increased. Lisa married Terry and they had Talia and Eli. 

David married Nicole and they had Emjay.

Rachel married Gary and they had Jericho and Jakobi. 

Oh, and in 1996 we adopted Sarah Hannah, now 23, and she’s part of all of this.

But when Joy’s cancer was discovered and quickly progressed, her mobility and our choices shrank. She died on Mother’s Day May 14, 2017, a week before her 67th birthday. At least a hundred people came to her funeral, though far away from most of our friends and families, in Racine, Wisconsin. 

Her ashes were scattered by me into a tall waterfall in a remote part of Iceland, in the calm waters of a quiet bay in southern Cagliari in Sardinia, an island west of Italy, and finally, atop a lonely mountain mesa in Israel’s southern Negev Desert, Masada. Joy is now everywhere.

There is a great grey pall that can descend on families when the older people die off and customs disappear. The special uniqueness of the original core group evaporates. So for a while, when Thanksgiving Day came around, and there was no longer A Sunday Before Thanksgiving, nor even the memory of it for me to talk about with Joy, I was terribly sad.

But completely unexpectedly, two years ago, my children–however this came about I don’t know–hard to type this now…the computer’s keys are all under water, it seems…decided that it really was a Family Tradition and needn’t disappear with Joy’s death after all, and TSBTG began again, in Rachel’s house.

This was so wonderful and so painful at the same time, but the humorous aspect of “No Jerks and No Drunks” also continued, and that made me smile.

I will be 70 next April. I doubt I could carry a heavy frozen turkey anymore. I type these words in a silent house about 70 miles north of where The Sunday Before Thanksgiving will be celebrated in another state in a few hours, and where, to my continued amazement, I am now the oldest person in the room. When the hell did that happen? Grampa Bob lingers.

As a storyteller, I find it to be an acceptable cliche that in order to go to see my grandkids, I have to travel over the river, through the woods and plow through an ocean of farms, silos and miles of tall, stiff rows of corn the color of parchment. It can be quite silent here, akin to the sound a single leaf makes when falling from a tall tree. Sitting in my car, my memory is populated by all who aren’t here, anymore. So many. I can hear them, tho’.

Joy wherever you are, be it frozen in some glacier in Iceland, flowing around someone’s sailboat in Italy, or mixed with the sands of the Dead Sea at the foot of Masada in Israel, you are not gone. 

Yes, maybe my tears can still flow like the Jordan River, but the deep pain of losing you reminds me that I’m still alive and can still feel.

Like me, for a while anyway, among our very good children, the spirit of you continues to dwell among us. 

Happy “The Sunday Before Thanksgiving”, dear Joy. 

Within these thousand words,

You are loved. 

You are remembered.

By many.


Comment by janet

November 24, 2019 @ 10:21 am

Mr Bob , Thanks this was ,again one of your great stories from fct and truth. Much can come from this by sharing . Actually for the many who work in health fields and other
situations that require working that can’t have a Thursday celebration I would hope they could fashion this to there needs . Its a heartwarming tale for sure .

Comment by Marilyn Zimmerman

November 24, 2019 @ 11:33 am

Dearest Bob,

As my late sister would often say, “Life is not for the faint of heart”. I too (God willing) will be 70 in August. I am also a live donor liver transplant survivor (graciously shared with me in an act of love by my only child, 2005) . Our families sound verrry similar! No longer do I have the energy to cart a frozen bird around! Sometimes we just have to sit back and when we least expect it the time line travels back in time and once again a tradition of love resurfaces. Sir, my motto: Carpe Diem…..Seize the day! And in a book of sermons written by Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, “Therefore Choose Life”……..I reside in Winnetka but was raised in CLEVELAND. Go Bucks!! Try to find a copy of this book of sermons…!

Comment by Don Larson

November 24, 2019 @ 5:11 pm

Hi Bob,

Another great Katzman family story!

My wife and I often celebrate Thanksgiving other than Thursday. We don’t make a big meal. We celebrate the holiday in our own way here.

When our parents were alive, we celebrated in the traditional ways. Afterward, we started our own tradition.

For decades, Thanksgiving for me starts the Holiday Season that lasts until January 2nd.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!


Comment by brad dechter

November 25, 2019 @ 6:20 am

Nice story and feeling Bob!
Happy Thanksgiving and I do hope you enjoyed your special Sunday too!

Comment by David Griesemer

November 28, 2019 @ 12:58 pm

In some families, the patriarchs are quiet men. The ones we tell stories about, not the story-tellers. Why? Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Katzmans are different. Their patriarch needs no one to speak for him. He was accustomed to weight from an early age. His spirit is muscular, even if he can’t carry a turkey.
As June Carter Cash was dying, she made Johnny promise to finish his last album. Instead of surrendering, he worked like someone who knew time was limited. Bob has always known that. Not a moment wasted.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. May we say what needs saying while we can.

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