Warming up for Thanksgiving Dinner Talk

A last-minute dinner party took an unexpected turn at our place over the weekend, perhaps offering a glimpse of what might be in store at some tables this afternoon.  

It was shortly after 9 Sunday morning when the unusually packed trolley pulled into Coolidge Corner. Carol and I were headed to 10 a.m. Mass at the Paulist Center and were determined, for a change, to be early.

Family rules at Maleita & Matt's house in Michigan (click for a closer look)

Family rules at Maleita & Matt’s house in Michigan (click for a closer look)

We split up to grab two of the few remaining seats, and proceeded to bury our heads in our reading, Carol on her iPad Mini and me in the Times Book Review.

At the next stop, I failed to notice the woman navigating her way down the crowded aisle with a cane. The more considerate passenger next to me quickly offered up her seat, though, and the woman eased in beside me. Squinting at the changing electronic station sign, she began comparing journey notes with the twenty-something young woman clutching the bar to my left.

Their accents and limited grasp of Green Line geography suggested tourists in need of advice. They seemed to appreciate my tips on making their way from Government Center to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, and we were chatting like old friends as the driver announced the approach of Kenmore station.

By the time the train screeched into Boylston, I’d invited Tara and her granddaughter, Hannah, to an early supper in Brookline.

Since the election, our across the hall crew has been talking about getting more intentional about rounding people up for Sunday night dinners. We’re hoping for evenings filled with what our late friend, Charley, used to refer to as “good, honest talk,” but the crush of travel and everyday life keeps getting in the way. Now we had at least a couple of guests lined up, and it took Marton only a couple of texts to recruit a few fellow coaches from his job as director of tennis at Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center in Dorchester.

Our British guests provided us with verbal snapshots of life in their village of 4,000 just north of London on the Central Line. Tara and Hannah are world travelers, and there were plenty of tales to share around a table that included a Sri Lankan, a couple of expats just back from Europe and a native Bostonian with roots in the Caribbean. Not to mention our resident Hungarian.   

I had a feeling that I might be wading into deep water when I changed the subject from train travel in India. I asked Tara and Hannah if they were surprised by the UK’s June vote to leave the European Union.

“Not at all,” Tara declared before she and Hannah declared, almost in unison, “We voted out!”

They proceeded to detail the reasons why, in their view, Brexit is a no-brainer that will free English farmers to grow what they want, free the country’s fishermen to fish where they want and free their fellow citizens from excessively prescriptive government regulation of all sorts.   Not to mention the delightfully unexpected return of “American sweets” to village shops, a development they cast as just the sort of more flexible trade awaiting an England “free to do business on its own.”

Tara and Hannah exhibited such enthusiasm for Britain’s new path that they may not have noticed the slack-jawed reaction around the table.

There was no reason to expect their position on Brexit to be otherwise, of course, apart from our assumption that such convivial and well-travelled dinner companions would, well, think like we do. Discretion appeared to be the better part of the valor required to brave the deeper Brexit divides of immigration and race. So we moved on to safer topics.

The encounter reminded me of discovering the first known Trump supporter in our extended family. The tip-off arrived courtesy of Facebook, in this instance more a medium of revelation than interaction.  

Political debate is not expected to be an especially welcome guest at many holiday gatherings today. A Nov. 17-20 poll of 1,003 Americans found 60 percent figuring it would happen but only four in ten looking forward to it.

The political diversity at the table we’ll set in Michigan this afternoon may look modest, stretching from Hillary to a few safe-state votes for Jill Stein. In fact, though, the chatter around the kitchen island this morning reflected the sort of substantial differences best accommodated with affection and restraint.

So far today, talking across our differences is providing a gentle warm-up for more difficult conversations still to come. In both, we’ll try to keep in mind the “Family Rules” posted on the wall here at Chez Walsh, especially these: Laugh at yourself, be grateful, hug often.

What’s the political spectrum like at your Thanksgiving table?  (Please add your comments — or read those of others — here.)

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