I have a lot of memories of Thanksgiving dinners in a lot of different places, with families that were not my own.
One of the strangest, and perhaps the sweetest, was when I was in military school in Virginia. The school did not completely shut down over the holiday. Most people went home, but you could stay if you wanted, and a few of us did. They would feed us, but other than that we were generally on our own.
I never would go home to New York, it was a long set of bus or train rides for just a few days, especially with Christmas so close at hand. Not to mention the cost. We didn’t have a lot of money and so I stayed. One year I went with some people from a little town in the valley. I had met them at church and they’d befriended me. Kind souls, they lived in a house built in the late 18th century in the middle of nowhere. But that’s another story, warm and sweet in its own right.
The teacher’s name was Captain Mason, but upon meeting him I immediately nicknamed him “Dancing Bear”. The name stuck, but it was not a mean name. He was much loved among the cadets that took his classes. I had him for French and English and he ignited my love for theater by encouraging me to appear in two plays he and another teacher produced. I owe much to this man, as he challenged us with literature and writing , and spent his own time and money exposing us to the arts in various places around Virginia. Romeo and Juliet at the University of Richmond, “The Miser” by Molière at the University of Virginia, in a beautiful theatre that looked like Jefferson himself had designed it…because he had. And the play was completely in French.
But this was not about learning. This was about kindness and two cadets who didn’t have family to go to and would have had something not very special in the mess hall on that particular Thursday. Instead he took us with him to his mother’s home on the family farm. She lived in a mobile home in the snow covered beauty of the Shenandoah Valley.
The other cadet and I wandered around the farm in the deep snow, talking to animals, and exploring a huge stone and wood barn, before returning for dinner with our two hosts in the tiny trailer. We were treated like kings, and the trailer was warm and cozy. It might as well have been a mansion.