The Magazine

Next Thanksgiving

And Thanksgivings past.

Dec 26, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 15 • By LARRY MILLER
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Los Angeles

I BROKE MY ANKLE on Thanksgiving night, 2004. We had my sister and her kids staying with us from New Jersey, and my sister-in-law and her family from Huntington Beach in Orange County. No better joy in a house than when all its beds and couches are full.

In addition, for the meal, were a couple of my comedy-writer friends. It was one of these, Barry Marder (who wrote the wonderful Ted Nancy Letters from a Nut books), whom I was walking outside with, about ten at night, when he said something funny, and I threw my head back laughing and clapped my hands in pleasure. It was the momentum of these two gestures, coupled with misplacing one of my Allen-Edmonds wing-tips on a sloped part of our moist driveway, that sent me into a perfectly executed chimp-flip. I did not stick the landing, and this caused a snap that can best be called pretty loud.

A lot of you sour-pussed sticklers for detail might put on a self-satisfied smirk and say, "Oh, but Larry, weren't you also drinking pretty steadily throughout the day? Maybe that's the real reason for your pathetic slip?" Fine, all right, maybe it was. Okay? Feel better? You're always right, aren't you?

I hobbled back inside, but feeling no pain (I guess that's how they came up with that phrase), and we all put our giant brains together and decided the best thing for me to do was sit down on the couch, elevate the ankle, put some ice on, and hope it was just a little twist. A twist that cracked like a whip, but a twist. Take it easy and see what happens. Oh, and have another drink. (I think that was my contribution.)

Well, it was broken, and I finally went down and got a cast after a few days of walking like Walter Brennan; and right after my wife said, "Hey, idiot. Go to the hospital." But it was nothing, as breaks go, and I was back doing the merengue in a couple of months.

One of my nephews there that day, Robert, was 17. He was the one who brought me the drink when I was on the couch, and seemed to think the whole thing was pretty funny. Then he asked if he could have one, too, and I glanced over at his folks, and they said no, and my wife said, maybe next year.

The next year, this Thanksgiving, a few weeks ago, I gave him a drink. A couple, in fact. We had them together, with his dad, and everyone thought it was fine. I know it's not legal, but why not? Hell, he's 18 now, and I was drinking at 18, and a good bit before, in fact, and look how I turned out, huh? (Oh, shut up.)

Later that night after the meal I saw him in our 6-year-old's bedroom building Legos together, and it was pretty cute. A little after that, when our kids were back downstairs jumping around, I went looking for Robert and found him asleep on the floor, curled up like a baby, surrounded by train tracks and baseballs, using a stuffed lion as a pillow. Pretty adorable as well, but I wasn't smiling this time, just staring. I thought about telling his folks how cute it was, how young he looked, but I didn't. I couldn't.

After a minute or so I sighed and turned and walked a little down the hallway, and stopped again and stared straight ahead for a bit. There's a reason I didn't tell them. It's the same reason I gave him a drink.

Last Monday, December 12, 2005, Robert started boot camp as a Marine in San Diego, at the base they call The Grinder. (I'm pretty sure the reason they named it that has nothing to do with any special affection for long sandwiches in New England.)

There's nothing deeper I can say than that. I've known him since he was three, and we're together every Thanksgiving. Sometimes at their place, sometimes at ours. A couple of years ago, he gave our kids a big bag full of old Legos to take home from his closet that his mother had saved. They're all mixed together now.

You already know the rest, whether anyone you love is serving or not. Most of you reading this have the same feeling for our soldiers I do. I hope our leaders use them well. No. I hope they use them better. I've never served in anything, and I know as much about tactics as a golden retriever. But I hope they use them better.

Maybe next Thanksgiving Robert and all his new friends will be fine. Maybe all our soldiers will be fine, and everything in Iraq will be fine, too. Maybe they'll all be okay. But they won't, will they? Some will be hurt, won't they? Some horribly. Some worse. I don't expect that image of him sleeping on the floor will ever leave me.

Last Thursday night Helen, his mom, called us when they knew he was leaving, and we all spoke and said whatever should be said. The same things you'd say.

Then she asked if she could speak to me for a second, and everyone said goodbye, and she got a little quieter and said, "I know we're always in your prayers, right?"

"You are," I said.

Then, after a short beat, she said, "Pray harder."

"I will."

Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.