Thanksgiving 2011

Great Things Have Happened 
by Alden Nowlan

We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, "Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time." But, of course, we were all lying.
The truth is the moon landing didn't mean
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I'm sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.

"Is that all?" I hear somebody ask.

Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you've never visited
before, when the bread doesn't taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,
except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.

 - Alden Nowlan / What Happened When I Went to the Store for Bread

1963 for me: I was living with Boyd Howard, both of us just out of college. We had an unauthorized one-room sublet on East 29th, off Park Avenue which, like the building in Nowlan's poem, had come down in the world. We shared a bathroom with the building superintendent, a crusty old sea dog, and paid him $20 a month not to report us to the landlord. In recompense he took it upon himself to act as a kind of butler to us. He washed our socks, dried them on the radiator, made coffee and woke us in the morning when we overslept. The faded elegance, the genteel poverty of it all, seemed normal to us. We were young and bright and everywhere we looked the horizons stretched out to infinity.

One winter night we were heading out to a party. We got to Boyd's car and it had been snowing. Clearing the windows off, we started making snowballs and throwing them. Soon we were laughing and tossing armfuls of snow at each other. It was cold out and we felt warm  and we were engaged in mock battle and we were best friends. It was New York and all the lights seemed to sparkle like the snowflakes swirling through the air.

Thanksgiving day and it has snowed in Minneapolis. I am thankful for the poet Alden Nowlan who can truly bring back such moments.  I'm thankful, above all for my children and my grandchildren and for good friends. Also for this whole damn city of Minneapolis and for New York in the 60's and the 1969 Mets. Finally I'm thankful for the internet and this future which it bought about, a future far beyond any of our dreams.

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