Thursday, November 26
Thanksgiving Day sees me waking with my alarm at 5am and preparing to take to the skies and move on once more. The Hampton Inn at Liberty has become my home but now, like those first pilgrims, I must travel to new lands and meet new people who will give me succour (well, Connecticut actually).
My case is empty, and I re-pack it neatly and carefully while I sip a cup of coffee. I shower and dress, before checking the room once more for those odds and ends, bits and bobs, that so often get overlooked in an early morning departure.
At 5.45 I am in the lobby and the hotel’s manager checks me out (I mean that he finalises my paperwork, rather than looking me up and down) . He asks how my shows have gone, before admitting that he loves the works of Charles Dickens and is gradually working through the novels. Bleak House is the next on his list.
I load the car up and grab a cup of coffee and a little blueberry muffin for the journey before driving towards Kansas City Airport. I have left a lot of time this morning, as the airport could be very crowded. Yesterday is generally regarded as the busiest travel day of the year with folks returning to their family homes, but it may be the case that the exodus will spread to the early hours of ‘Turkey Day’ (as it is irreverently called by some). There is also the current world situation, which will inevitably lead to increased security. I would be lying if I didn’t say that the possibility of terrorist attacks on Thanksgiving Day seem very real, and have definitely played on my mind.
The road is quiet, and I find a radio station playing Christmas songs, one of the first of which is the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s Sarajevo; the opening bars elicit a Pavlovian response deep within in me and I feel as if I should start performing.
As I drive, I pass Robin Hood Road, and remember passing the same in Norfolk. I thought that Robin Hood was an English folk hero who plied his trade in Sherwood Forest, but apparently he took an extensive trip to the USA as well.
The traffic isn’t heavy and having filled the car with fuel, arrive at the Avis drop off zone by 6.30am. There are only a few people on the shuttle bus to the terminal which isn’t nearly as busy as I’d feared. From experience I know that there are no restaurants air side, so I have a delicious breakfast of eggs and bacon before making my way to the security gate. As I sip my orange juice and drink my coffee I write as much of the blog as I can, before time overtakes me.
The flight boards and I settle into my seat, unencumbered by a near neighbour. As I have only been watching House of Cards during flights I am ready for a new fix. The drama continues to play out and I am amazed when one of the characters demands that A Tale of Two Cities be read to him: that Dickens man gets everywhere!
The flight to Atlanta takes a little under two hours. My onward flight is to take me to White Plains, New York, and will depart from Terminal D, which means a ride on the Hartsfield-Jackson metro system. I have plenty of time this morning so there is no panic or rush.
Once at the gate I manage to finish the blog, which I post without photographs (I will add them later), just before boarding commences. The flight north again lasts for two hours, and I treat myself to a Thanksgiving glass of wine as I look down and wonder what the first pilgrims (not to mention the Native American Indians), would make of modern America.
The sky is clear and we pass over cities which frustratingly I can’t identify. One maybe Norfolk and one is probably Baltimore. I think we pass over Philly too, before making our descent into the charmingly intimate Westchester Airport, White Plains. It is aptly named, although miss-spelled, because the tarmac is covered with white planes.
The arrivals hall is very small and I can sort out my rental car whilst waiting for my suitcase to appear. The paperwork is signed off as my large silver case rolls around and around, and in no time I am introduced to my steed for the next few days, a white Nissan Altima.
After leaving the airport I soon join the beautiful Merritt Parkway, taking me from New York to Connecticut. The afternoon sun is low, casting a golden glow through the woods that line the narrow road – it is so different from those wide, straight, never-ending highways in Missouri. Low, stone, arched bridges cross the road at regular intervals, and the highway is full of cars with the New York State’s distinctive dark blue and yellow license plates.
After an enjoyable, if sometimes nervous drive (the lanes on the parkway are so narrow), I turn off to the town of Norwalk and my hotel on Main Street. This year I am staying at the Even Hotel, which is a new chain to me. I pull up in the car park and unload the car, but as I do so, my large suitcase breaks: The extendable handle snaps and one of its struts disappears into the framework never to be seen again. I knew that this case was not holding up well, and secretly I have been wanting one of those with a caster on each corner, so maybe this is a providential happening. Oh, if only there were a single day in the year when retailers offered huge discounts……
The Even hotel is very modern, and the foyer is spacious yet minimalist. I am checked in by a young gentleman, who explains that membership of the health suite is complimentary. I take the lift to the fourth floor, and the corridor is marked up with huge numbers on the wall.
As soon as I am in the room I see that fitness, health and well-being are of great importance here, as there is various gym equipment laid out for my enjoyment. There is a large ball as well as ropes, elasticated bands and foam mats. The TV is automatically tuned to a channel giving ideas for work-out routines in the room. Even the sliding door to the bathroom is made of heavy frosted glass, which requires super-human muscles to move.
The décor is sparse, yet stylish and the room is very comfortable. I have an hour before I have to leave again, so I update the blog, and send a few emails, before showering and dressing for my Thanksgiving Dinner.
I am here to perform on behalf of Garry and Jenifer Bean, who own a Christmas shop in the next town. My show is tomorrow, but they have very kindly invited me to join them at Jennifer’s family celebration.
Jim and Judi Cummings (Jennifer’s parents) live 20 minutes away and I pull up at the house just after 5pm. Judi welcomes me with open arms, and soon I am in the heart of the house, where the feast is being prepared.
Jim and Judi are the perfect patriarch and matriarch and are obviously fiercely proud of their family: photographs are on every ledge. Jim and I share a love of classic cars and we talk about the Plymouth convertible that he owned and worked on as a young man
Gradually the family begin to arrive, and soon the home is filled with the noise and laughter of three generations.
I am introduced to sisters, and granddaughters and sons-in-law and more nieces and nephews and another son-in –law. Garry and Jennifer arrive with their kids and everyone is introduced and all of their names go in one ear before departing instantly through the other.
Judi comes in from the kitchen, brushing a whisp of hair from her face and ushers us all into the dining room, where the table has been placed diagonally (as that is the only way it will fit). The table centre is decorated with pumpkins and candles. We all take our seats, and blessings and prayers are solemnly delivered, before we make for the kitchen again to fill our plates.
An amazing feast! There is turkey and mashed potato and sweet potato and beet and beans and carrots and macaroni cheese and gravy and salad and pickled cucumber and so much more.
Back at the table happy memories of childhood are recounted and everyone laughs at stories they have heard so many times before. The younger generation look aghast as they hear of the misdeeds of their parents. It is a happy, happy time with good, good people.
At one point Judi appears next to me with a folder full of souvenirs from their visit to Britain in 1981. To my amazement they visited a Quaker meeting house in a town very close to home, which boasts a barn built from the timbers of The Mayflower. I had always assumed that The Mayflower was preserved somewhere on the east coast of America; I’d certainly never realised that she sailed back to England, let alone been broken up for building materials. I must pay her a visit next year sometime.
At around 9 o’clock I say that I really must get back to my hotel , and Judi insists that before I leave we have must have a family picture taken with me sitting, rather embarrassingly, front and centre.
I shake hands and say good bye to the family, and Judi gives me a farewell hug on the door step, before I drive back along the Merritt Parkway and to the hotel.
We do not have a holiday like Thanksgiving in the UK and I wish we did. It does not have the commercial pressures of Christmas, it is simply a celebration of family, unity and love and don’t we need to celebrate those things right now?