It's a tradition for many of us to gather with family and friends on Thanksgiving. The menu and the festivities are often the same: A look at the big parade in New York City on TV, maybe a game of touch football. But some friends may not be able to make it to dinner: the loved ones serving in the military overseas, a family member who's passed away since this time last year, or maybe someone who has to work today. Host Neal Conan takes calls from listeners who want to share stories about who's not at their Thanksgiving table this year.
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NEAL CONAN, HOST:
Most of us on Thanksgiving gather with family and friends. The menu and the festivities are often the same: a look at the big parade in New York on TV, maybe a game of touch football, or maybe a little football on TV, too. But some may not be able to make it to Thanksgiving. Each year on this holiday, we ask for stories about who's not at your table: the loved one serving overseas, the family member who's passed since this time last year, maybe somebody who has to work today. Our phone number: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
This from Robin in Wyoming - in Lander, Wyoming: Happy Thanksgiving to Neal and the TALK crew. Thank you very much. My daughter lives in Jerusalem and won't be with us this Thanksgiving. Yet with the ceasefire currently holding, we're reassured that her dashes to the air raid shelters will subside. Hour by hour, we attend to the news and pray for level heads prevailing in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Egypt and throughout the region. Her telephone comments have been astounding and in contrast to the media reports.
Let's see if we can get a comment on the phone. This is Joe, and Joe's on the line with us from Des Moines.
JOE: Yes. I'm the one that's not at the table because I have to work. I work for the Union Pacific Railroad, and we - just as a something for your listeners to understand that every day we bring 100 cars of produce that get consumed to Chicago. And so I don't know how their distribution is from there, but this is on just one line of the Union Pacific. So the food you have on your table is - comes from some of us not being able to be there with you.
CONAN: And are you working on the train itself, or in the yard?
JOE: No, I work on the train. I take a train that comes out of Chicago, and I take it across the state of Iowa to Omaha, and then another crew from Nebraska will take it, and we run it down into Los Angeles. But the Union Pacific has 50,000 employees, so there's probably quite a few of us not working. But it is a holiday for non-union people. And very many people, they run at reduced train load today. So I'll go across the state in pretty good speed today.
CONAN: Joe, drive carefully.
JOE: Thank you. Bye.
CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. Here's an email, this from Doug in Jacksonville, Florida: I'd like to just say I miss my dad, Tom King(ph). This is my first Thanksgiving without him. I miss you, Dad.
Let se we go next to Carol. Carol's on the line with us from Boise.
CAROL: Hi. I'm calling because I miss my daughters, Josie(ph) and Jilly(ph). And they're with their dad in Washington, D.C., this Thanksgiving. And I just wanted to give a shout-out because I know he listens to NPR, too. So I love you, girls.
CONAN: Well, thanks for - they have a nice day for it here in Washington.
CAROL: Yes, I'm sure. Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the phone call. We appreciate it. And this is from Ann, who writes: In previous years you asked: Who's missing from your Thanksgiving table? I wrote in several times that my sons were missing to the military service, including deployments to Afghanistan. This year, I wanted to announce, for the first time since 2005, everyone is at home. Everyone will be at the table.
Let's see if we can go next to Heather. Heather's with us from Seneca Falls, in New York.
HEATHER: Hi, there.
CONAN: Hi. Happy Thanksgiving.
HEATHER: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you.
CONAN: And who's not at your table?
HEATHER: Well, I'm from North Carolina, and I'm up here in graduate school for chiropractics. And my father has been sent to New Jersey because he works for FEMA. So he's out there helping. And Mom is down in North Carolina. So I just wanted to tell them I miss them.
CONAN: So to use the communicative qualities of radio that maybe pulled all your family together.
HEATHER: Yeah. We all three - we love each other very much. And we're just not together on this holiday so maybe next year. But it's good to add a little contrast once in a while.
CONAN: What does your dad do for FEMA?
HEATHER: He is the small town liaison. He goes around to the corporations and checks out how they're doing with their employees, whoever has been displaced and can't make it to work, that kind of thing.
CONAN: And do you happen to know where he is in New Jersey?
HEATHER: He is in - it has a funny name - Neptune.
CONAN: Come again?
CONAN: Neptune, New Jersey, yes, down by the shore.
HEATHER: Yes, he is. I think he's at a movie right now.
CONAN: Well, I guess he's...
HEATHER: And mom's cleaning the boat, so I'm driving to somebody's house for Thanksgiving so.
CONAN: Well, get there safely.
HEATHER: Thank you so much. Have a good afternoon.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Here's an email we have from Tommy(ph): My mother of 83 passed away last Sunday, and I will not be spending Thanksgiving with us this year. Here's a poem I wrote: and now that you've passed, how do I feel? Between us three brothers, we joked about it before you passed. Patrick taking you for a long hike or how if we've been Eskimos, you'd been left on a drifting ice floe. I took you out to the lake a couple of months back and thought how easy it would have been off the dock. Did the thief of Alzheimer's move undetected through us robbing our compassion along with your mind? For months, I kneaded out my grief, at times, in waves of emotion but always holding back for this moment. Thank you for that, Tommy.
Let's see if we can go to Mike, and Mike's with us from Muskogee.
MIKE: Yeah. My brother, Murray Phelps(ph), he passed away on Friday, two weeks ago. And Murray always smoked the salmon for Thanksgiving dinner - I normally did. But I've been estranged from my brothers and sisters for about 30 years. And I have managed to go back the week before he passed away, had the most beautiful pseudo Thanksgiving. We grilled chicken in his yard, built a bonfire, had to have some absolutely wonderful conversations with him and my other brothers. And I got on a plane and flew back to Oklahoma, and he passed on the following morning. But not only will he be missed at Thanksgiving, but I am absolutely so thankful for the opportunity to go and see him and reconnect with my family.
CONAN: I can understand. I could hear that in your voice too. I wonder, though, are you going to have some smoked salmon on your table at Thanksgiving?
MIKE: Well, seeing as how I'm working, we're going to be doing Thanksgiving down here on Saturday. And, absolutely, that was a tribute I decided to go for, introduce it to my family down here who are not all that familiar with salmon.
CONAN: They don't get that far upstream, no.
CONAN: Mike, thanks very much for the call. And I'm sure you're glad you took the opportunity to reconnect before it was too late.
MIKE: I am tickled to death and loved every minute of it.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.
MIKE: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to Kathleen(ph), Kathleen from Micahogy(ph), is that right, in Florida?
KATHLEEN: No, Micanopy...
CONAN: Micanopy, OK. Go ahead.
KATHLEEN: ...Florida, right. My daughter and grandsons and her husband are up in Atlanta, and I'm down here in Micanopy. And my other daughter is in the Caribbean, working for the Canadian Red Cross. And so we're not together, but I am ever so thankful for two wonderful daughters and a great family.
CONAN: What's everybody doing up in Atlanta?
KATHLEEN: Well, I actually made a trip to the southeast and saw them, and my sister near Charleston, South Carolina last week. So they're doing fine. They're cooking. They're actually up in the mountains at her sister-in-law's in Nawanaca(ph). So they're having a big day up there.
CONAN: And where exactly in the Caribbean is your other daughter?
KATHLEEN: My daughter lives in the Republic of Panama, but she travels. She just came from doing a conference on violence prevention in Honduras, and she's headed to Anguilla next week to do another conference.
CONAN: Well, they don't celebrate Thanksgiving there.
KATHLEEN: No. Well, they do, but it's just not on the same day as ours.
CONAN: I - that's a good thing to know, Kathleen. Thanks very much.
KATHLEEN: Thank you.
CONAN: Enjoy the holiday.
KATHLEEN: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's see we go next to - this is Jackie(ph). And Jackie is on the line from Quincy, Washington.
JACKIE: Yes. Hi.
JACKIE: I am recalling that my husband of 61 years died on Thanksgiving last year, and I was trying to call earlier about - when you were having the segment on military recollection.
JACKIE: And the year that we got married, he was standing in line to be part of the Air Force, and he was rejected and - for 4-F. And that was one of his saddest memories throughout his lifetime, that whenever people were acknowledged as being part of some military service, he always felt like he hadn't really done his full job as far as the war was concerned. But we were farmers for 40 - dairy farmers for 45 years. And so we always felt we supported our country in that way. But last Thanksgiving, he was privileged to speak with his five kids, his 10 grandchildren and his 11 great-grandchildren, each one. And then he choked that night and died the next day. So we felt Thanksgiving is a day we can not only, with sorrow, celebrate but with a great joy that he had that opportunity with his family.
CONAN: I'm sure you remember that fondly, and we're so sorry for your loss.
JACKIE: Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.
JACKIE: Uh-huh. Bye-bye.
CONAN: Here's an email. This from - I'm not sure - Mary: My husband is an obstetrical anesthesiologist, and he works from 6:30 a.m. today until 7 a.m. tomorrow. Our youngest son is working and living in Dubai. Missing them both today, grateful for Skype.
A good way for families to stay in touch. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And here's an email from Andrea(ph): My active duty Air Force husband will not be with us here at Thanksgiving today as he's in training and preparing to leave for Afghanistan. He'll be leaving on Friday. My three sons and myself will be missing him greatly.
Let's see if we go next to - this is Deborah(ph). Deborah with us from Milwaukee.
CONAN: Hi, Deborah.
DEBORAH: I'm from the upper peninsula of Michigan. I cannot be there. I was supposed to be home but I - there was a change in plans. And so, you know, 35 years ago, I would've hitchhiked home. That's how I grew up and - but it's, you know, there's people there suffering and sacrificing their time and life in fighting a war that doesn't need to happen. So I - that kind of grounds me. And I also want to say hi to Joe from Union and Pacific. I used to take care of the plants at the Ramada Inn, which is now a hospital in Milwaukee. And all the railroad guys would stay there. And a lot of them worked for the - every time they'd say U.P., I'd say, oh, you're from the U.P. No, it was the Union Pacific.
DEBORAH: So anyway, oh, I just like - it's, you know, it's just another day but I really - I wish I were home to say hi to my - be with my mom and sister, Diane(ph) and Barb(ph), who I haven't seen in over three years.
CONAN: What is special about Thanksgiving for a U.P.-er?
DEBORAH: My mom is the best cook, I'm telling you. Every night we had a meal that my mom cooked from scratch and breakfast - scrambled eggs and pancakes and bacon on Sundays. But it's the food. It's food, what we need to survive. And that - just like your family, it's your roots, you know, that attachment to, that matters the most in life: Your family.
CONAN: Deborah, you're going to have a good meal, though?
DEBORAH: Probably not.
CONAN: Well, go make an effort.
DEBORAH: I am. I'm thinking.
CONAN: All right.
DEBORAH: All right. Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks so much for the call. And this email that we have: It's not who I will miss at my table. It's who I will miss under my table. My sweet Corgi died last month. Thanksgiving was one of his favorite holidays spent with his pack.
Let's go to Kyle. Kyle on the line with us from Boise.
KYLE: Hi there. I'm actually going to be the one that's not going to make it for Thanksgiving this year. I've got work, just as many others. But I actually work in a call center for Verizon Wireless. I troubleshoot phones and whatnot. But they're offering overtime today, and I get double time for working on Thanksgiving. So I'm getting triple and a half my regular wage for working today, so it's a pretty good deal.
CONAN: Wow. I've got to get online with my union rep. We don't get that.
KYLE: Maybe you should. They're bringing in turkey and mashed potatoes and they're feeding us, they're doing everything for us. So it's - it should be a pretty good day.
CONAN: And when you get home?
KYLE: I'll be working - I'm actually - I already started my shift here. I started at 11 a.m., and I'll be working until 11 p.m. I try to take advantage of that triple time.
CONAN: Well, good luck with that. It may make Christmas go a little easier too.
CONAN: Thanks very much. Happy holidays.
KYLE: Same to you. Thank you.
CONAN: This is from Lyndon(ph) in Avenal, California: I am not at home. I am at a truck stop in Indiana. This is my second one in a row. I miss being with my wife and kids, but I'll be home for Christmas.
Let's go to Donna(ph). Donna with us from Grass Valley in California.
DONNA: I'm going to miss my Hells Angels uncle. We haven't seen him in about a year. And although he gave his family quite a few problems in expenses and thrills and laughs, he was turned down the last time he asked to come and visit. And I'm just afraid his lifestyle may have caught up with him, and he can't get on the bike or railroad car. And we're not going to see him this year but bless his heart.
CONAN: But bless - it sounds like you all love him very much?
DONNA: We do. It's just lifestyle choice. And most of us are cops and business people, and it was always difficult for him to fit in. But like I say, he gave us a lot of good memories, and I hope he's going to give us more.
CONAN: Most people like that turn up when you least expect it.
DONNA: Well, that would be nice.
CONAN: Donna, we hope for the best.
DONNA: Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.
CONAN: This one is an email from Jeff: 26 November, 2009, 7:05 a.m., it was Thanksgiving Day, just eight days after our 24th wedding anniversary, my wife died. She was 45, literally living in the body of a 90-year old. This was the result of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 3 and lupus later in life. Today, as with the last two years, I visit her grave. I unpack my beach chair, my guitar and sing.
A couple of other emails. We'll end with - this is from Alida(ph): My daughter, who lives in New York City, is helping the victims of Sandy today at Coney Island. I miss her, but at least she's not shopping.
CONAN: All right. And we heard from so many people. We wish we could get to everybody. Very quickly, Deborah(ph) in Blanco, Texas, wrote in to tell us about her mom, who was a gracious host with remarkable attention to details from the centerpiece, to the wineglasses, and the salt cellars and extra place settings.
Jean(ph) in San Jose wrote to tell us about her mother who died of primary brain cancer in October of 2011. Mike's email from Anchorage, Alaska, was about his son in Portland and his daughter somewhere on the Amazon River. Sharon in Vallejo, California, is missing her mother, Bernice Migriff(ph) and her sister, Melody, who passed away within four months of each other this year. Just some of those who aren't going to be able to make it at the table, at the family celebration of Thanksgiving.
Again, thanks to everybody who called and wrote. We're sorry we couldn't get to them all, but we wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.