On Thanksgiving, fair is fowl and fowl is fair. Unless you're a vegetarian, of course. The fourth Thursday in November is our original multicultural holiday, commemorating the feast for Indians and colonists celebrating their first harvest together. It's a holiday that unites the spiritual with the material, faith and food, the sacred and secular. Family values crisscross generations.
One Web site calls for declaring Thanksgiving a "Day of National Mourning for Native Americans," but the holiday is generally enjoyed without politically correct impositions. Animal-rights advocates may protest the stuffed bird and organic fanatics can insist that the turkey be "free-range" (or, at least, at home on the range), but most of us merely want to gather together to ask the Lord's blessings without arguing whether the mention of God or the president's Thanksgiving proclamation run against the separation of church and state.
Gender politics are not so polarized as they used to be. Either a man or a woman can comfortably cook or carve. Not even the transgender advocate will find an argument unless dressing the turkey is misunderstood as a political act, or Uncle Harry arrives in drag. Environmentalists may rail against anyone who drives up in a gas-guzzling SUV, but they're likely to be outnumbered if the families arrive from the suburbs or Thanksgiving is celebrated in corrector-than-thou California (where everybody drives either a SUV or a Lexus, or a Lexus SUV).
But conversations around the Thanksgiving table have a way of becoming contentious no matter how much relatives and friends love each other. Different generations examine the nature of the beast through different lenses.
The hip grandma who loves Eminem won't win points from the teenybopper no matter how hard she tries. Granny can't possibly dig the rapper's lyrics with authentic cool. If she's faking a fondness for Eminem, that means either the days of the superstar are numbered or Social Security has taken on new meaning. An aging boomer who lacks the long view may want to be trusted past 50, but "the graduate" as played by Dustin Hoffman is already cruising through his sixth decade and Mrs. Robinson is not merely an "older woman" but a senior citizen.
So what should we talk about as we pass the cranberries and mashed sweet potatoes with or without the marshmallows? Certain subjects can provoke robust debate, but won't necessarily divide or stereotype generations.
The old golf geezers at the table railing against women demanding to join the Augusta National Golf Club, for example, will find allies from young post-feminists who think the elite golf club is an anachronism and could care less whether the club admits one or two rich women. A New York Times editorial asks Tiger Woods to carry the burden for feminists and refuse to play there, but we can be pretty sure that the New York Times will cover the Masters if there is one. Let the opinions fly. No one's likely to get indigestion over this one.
Has "The Sopranos" become too violent? Dismembering one of its members was gory indeed, but what better way to bring home the Sixth Commandment? Even a don knows that thou shalt not kill. The HBO hit has become a melodramatic morality tale as Tony Soprano, the mob boss, gets his own hands bloody and his sensitivity toward "the family" becomes increasingly ironic. He even says goodbye to his therapist. Nietzsche would understand that psychotherapy is dead. The sins of the godfather have turned Christopher, "the hope of the next generation," into a heroin addict. Murder will out.
Republicans at the table may feel smug over Election 2002, but the margins are a little slim for open gloating. The Democrats who last year reveled in cracks about George Bush being Dumbo no longer have that card to play, so maybe there can be an earnest discussion over what to do if/when the arms inspectors verify that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. We're not talking about Ho Chi Minh here.
A Thanksgiving e-mail that floated into my mailbox offers homilies for this holiday that all of us can appreciate:
"I am thankful for the wife who says it's hot dogs tonight because she is home with me, not with someone else; for the husband who is on the sofa who is being a couch potato because he is home with me and not out at the bars; for the teenager who is complaining about doing dishes because that means she is at home, not on the streets; for the taxes I pay, because it means that I am employed; and for the mess to clean after a party because it means that I have been surrounded by friends."
Happy Thanksgiving. Even if you're doing the dishes.