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Nancy Horton's Blog: A Thanksgiving to Remember

A last minute change of plans provides a Thanksgiving adventure.

Thanksgiving 2012 wasn’t what anybody planned it to be. Our table had no gleaming heirloom silver, linen tablecloth or even a centerpiece. Those who wanted wine had to order it by the glass. We had our Thanksgiving dinner in a bar this year.

Plans had been made – or were thought to have been made – but obstacles presented themselves and, given certain constraints, the bar was the only place that could accommodate us.

We’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving with our across-the-street-neighbor since we moved to the neighborhood. The first several years, Mary Ann invited us to the home-cooked feast that she prepared for her extended family. Nobody was allowed to bring anything. Gradually, she began to accept a few potluck items, until two years ago when she let my husband, John, bring the turkey and gravy.

Last year she hung up her apron for good and she and her cousin Jean had Thanksgiving at an Alameda restaurant. They had expected to do it again this year. But the same restaurant booked up early, and for whatever reason the staff was unable to return messages to let people know that they were no longer accepting reservations.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, Mary Ann went to the restaurant in person and learned that she had no reservation. That same day her car was damaged by a hit-and-run parker in the Safeway parking lot. It was the last straw to what had been a terrible day, so she called me and asked that I come up with an alternate plan that involved eating turkey and staying on the island.

I’d never known Mary Ann to be this stressed. She is usually pretty relaxed and is a good sport about most things. And her cousin Jean is a very gracious lady. But Jean uses a walker and really wouldn’t be comfortable at a bistro table on some restaurant’s patio – which was sounding like our only option.

I called every Alameda restaurant that I could think of and, at that late date, could find only one place open on Thanksgiving – serving turkey – that could accommodate our party of eight. It was 1400, at the corner of Webster and Central.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but made the reservation and hoped that nobody would be put off by eating at a bar buffet.

When we arrived, I stashed Cousin Jean’s walker in a convenient corner and our group gathered at the round table that was reserved for us. We ordered cocktails (it’s a bar, after all) and people began to tell stories of memorable Thanksgiving dinners. There was a football game on the TV screens in the bar, and every once in a while the patrons cheered loudly.

We served ourselves from the well-stocked buffet. As we chatted and reminisced and visited, it occurred to me that while I had stressed about making sure that the ladies got a traditional Thanksgiving, the evening was actually more about spending the holiday with good friends and making connections with new acquaintances.

As we lingered over our dinner, I took note of the other patrons that night. There were groups of young guys, a dad and a kid, small families and one or two older couples. Not everyone was having dinner; many were enjoying the football game and drinking at the bar.

So I wondered about those who were there for Thanksgiving. Was it a last-minute decision to pop in, or was 1400 their go-to place for Thanksgiving dinner? Were the single ones missing friends and relatives, or perfectly fine on their own? Had any just gotten off work?

There are churches and social organizations that provide a free holiday meal to the homeless or those in poverty. And, of course, those with relatives (or who plan well) have their usual Thanksgiving dinner plans. But the proprietor of 1400 provides a Thanksgiving option for those in between – whose plans fell through, who had no plans or who decided at the last minute to have a turkey dinner, for a pretty reasonable price.

I’m sure that a few people there that night longed for the days of laden tables and the familiar faces of ancestors who are long gone. But for others, a buffet style meal with all the trimmings in a friendly corner establishment may be all the Thanksgiving they need.

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Mark Irons November 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM
hey Nancy. In the twenty years or more that my wife and I have been raising two sons we have most often gone to the home of her sibling through the Caldicott Tunnel, but there have been times when that wasn't to be, so we improvised. For about four years running we rented a room with a kitchenette at the Sand Piper Motel in Stinson Beach which was one of our favorites. First year we cooked there and other years we ate at places like Olema Inn and another place in Muir beach. There was some serious cost attached, but it was always nice to be at the beach and on occasion to side step family politics. For twenty years previous I was a bachelor and sometimes got invites to friends and other times not. When I lived in a warehouse district we had a Thanksgiving for strays and collected all the other lone wolf types in the neighborhood for pot luck and that was one of the better Thanksgivings. I've no significant family of my own in the area and have never been one to fly across the country for a meal, so I spent more than a couple Thanksgiving or Christmas day meals at La Estellita at Fifth Ave and East 12th, not far from that warehouse. As a twenty something from back east I lived in houses in Berkeley with students who often took off for holidays leaving an empty house. I had no money to fly. Initially it always made me feel lonely and I resented the entire holiday season for that reason, but it taught me to embrace solitude.
Mark Irons November 27, 2012 at 12:01 AM
I'm still not big on ceremony and happy to stay at home, but our eldest has been living in NYC and hadn't been home for Thanksgiving in five years. This year he got lonely and caught a cheap Jet blue flight and I have to say, I'm glad he did.
Lois Hoeffler November 28, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Nancy, when I lived at Orgyen Dorje Den on Santa Clara Avenue in Alameda they were having a big dharma program and our kitchen was taken over by the lamas and Rinpoches (teachers) so we had no place to eat. So we residents joined in the homeless line and went to a swanky bar on Lincoln and had our turkey dinner there instead! It was just as nice, and in a wonderful setting. Thanksgivings need not be traditional to be memorable, in my experience!

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