Guest blogger Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey shares her Bush II-era Thanksgiving memories.
During my freshman year of college I was 2000 miles away from my hometown and completely without any family in the area. My Thanksgiving plans entailed going to New York and spending the holiday weekend with a friend and her relatives. When a combination of laryngitis and acute homesickness put me on a last-minute flight to Texas instead, my friend promised that the invitation for Thanksgiving dinner would still be open the following year. I took her up on it.
At the time, New York still held a bit of mystique for me. I’d been living in Philadelphia for a little over a year by that point, making frequent weekend trips up to the Big Apple. I’d shopped on Fifth Avenue; I’d seen shows on Broadway; I’d been in a rowboat in Central Park; I’d hailed my own taxi. But I hadn’t quite figured out how people could actually live in New York. I felt small and slow and quiet. I needed to take a breath before emerging from Penn Station. This Thanksgiving would give me an opportunity to see how real New York life was lived.
I did not know until I got to my friend’s parents’ apartment, just a few blocks off of Lincoln Center, that I would not actually be experiencing a real New York Thanksgiving, but rather a real North Jersey Thanksgiving. We traveled just over the bridge to a town filled with ex-Manhattanites who’d decided they needed lawns or bigger closets. This is where my friend’s parents’ oldest friends now lived. And on the surface, it was an idyllic setting for a real, old-fashioned Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t get my cramped, Manhattan meal, but maybe I could hope for a slice of Norman Rockwell.
I may not have been in New York, but I was still amongst New Yorkers. As a Texan, I was regarded as a bit of a novelty at the dinner table. There are no Bloomingdale’s in El Paso, Texas. No Neiman Marcuses or Saks Fifth Avenues. We had a Macy’s but it was brand new. Theater tended to be of the community variety, with the occasional touring company coming through. I love my hometown, but suddenly it felt so … pedestrian. But still, I knew the questions I was asked were borne of curiosity and not rudeness. I was a guest, and made to feel welcome. At least until the conversation turned to politics.
Although New York City had, by that point, had Republican mayors for almost a decade, the city is generally regarded as a Democratic one. My friend’s family and their friends certainly voted blue. It was 2003, two years and change after September 11. While possibly popular with New Yorkers for five minutes after visiting Ground Zero, the second President Bush was doubtless amongst New Yorkers’ least-beloved public figures by this dinner. And he had served as governor in my home state for five years before becoming president. General consensus at the table was that Bush was a bad president; this was expressed in ways varying from a call for impeachment to a call for his head. Suddenly, I felt all eyes on me: “Jill, you’re from Texas. What do you think of the president?”
There was absolutely no correct way to answer that question, so I answered around it: “I think that I spend too much time studying to pay much attention to politics.”
“Don’t you have an opinion?”
“Not one I feel qualified to share.”
The room was quiet, but I was raised not to discuss politics in polite company, whether I agreed with them or not (and I did, in some regards) and so I wasn’t going to be the one to break the silence. I think everyone at the table finished eating as quickly as possible, just to get away from the awkwardness.
The next Thanksgiving, I had dinner with friends in Philadelphia.