Here in Camberwell, we like to think of our town as New England's most progressive community. In other towns, Thanksgiving is a day of feasting in which Americans gorge themselves till they're about to burst. But in Camberwell, the new thing is to fast on Thanksgiving. Even at the Senior Center.
Ida Wilson generally took care of herself, but with her husband gone, cooking a Thanksgiving turkey was too big of a project. She couldn't even lift one, and who would eat all the leftovers?
Ida walked the three blocks from her house to Camberwell's Marini Senior Center, being careful tostep around fallen leaves that were still slippery from the previous day's rain. Inside the SeniorCenter, it was warm and bright. The walls were decorated with colorful murals of old and young people marching together in solidarity.
Ida entered the lunchroom and scanned it for familiar faces. She spotted one at the third table by the window. Her friend Betty was talking to a woman in a wheelchair.
"Betty," Ida said, "can I sit with you?" Betty was 75 if she was a day, but her hair was as red as a pimento.
"Ida. This seat has your name written all over it." The metal legs of the chair squealed against thelinoleum floor as Betty dragged it next to her.
"Who's that you were talking to?" Ida asked.
"You don't want to know. I'm glad you interrupted. She's very unpleasant."
"Shh!" Ida said.
"Don't worry, she's deaf in her right ear."
"So how are your children?" Ida asked.
"Thank God, they're fine. My grandson will be applying to colleges next year."
"Ladies and gentlemen," said a voice over the microphone. Everyone stopped talking, except for the partly deaf woman, whom Betty had to tap on the shoulder.
"We're going to start our program now." The speaker was a young man not even in his forties. "I'm Grayson Jones, the director of elder services, and I'd like to welcome you to Camberwell's new Thanksgiving Day celebration."
"The first part of our program will be musical. We have a nice band here you will enjoy, the Alma-knacks, and they'll start with a Duke Ellington number."
The five piece band struck up some wonderful old tunes, from Bennie Goodman to Glenn Miller, and closed with a rousing sing-a-long of "Puff The Magic Dragon."
Mr. Jones returned to the microphone. "Wasn't that great! Now, we come to what you've all been waiting for. What's Thanksgiving without a turkey? Well, you're all about to find out."
"Did I hear right," Betty whispered. "No turkey?"
"I bet they're serving Cornish game hens," Ida whispered back.
"This year, the City of Camberwell, under the direction of the council, has studied the issue ofoverconsumption. Americans are five percent of the world's population, but we consume a quarter of the world's resources. Not only that, we're overweight. We waste too much energy. We throw away too much trash."
"Oh my Lord," Ida muttered. "They're serving vegetarian!"
"And what symbolizes excess more than the Thanksgiving feast? So today, rather than a feast, we are putting on a Thanksgiving fast. There will be no food served, and the money saved will be transferred to the Housing Department to help those in need of transitional housing.""No food!" Betty yelled. "Is he crazy?""I'm thirsty," shouted a man in the back with admirably healthy lungs."Don't worry," Mr. Jones said. "We'll be serving fruit juice and punch." A man with a cane rapped it against the table. "What about baked potatoes?""I'm sorry," Mr. Jones said. "There will be no baked potatoes.""I want stuffing!" demanded the disabled woman on Betty's left.
Betty nudged Ida. "He'd better not get her mad. She's a bitch on wheels."
The woman rolled herself away from the table. "I want stuffing," she yelled, as she barreled toward Mr. Jones.
The man with the cane dragged himself toward Jones and waved the cane in the air. "What's the idea? You can't spare a potato? I was a fireman in this town for years. Is this how you treat me?"
The woman in the wheelchair rolled into the microphone. Jones tried to avoid her and tripped over the cord. As he was lying on the ground, a band of seniors gathered around him, demanding turkey, or chicken at the very least.
The retired firefighter stood over Jones, waving his cane in a threatening manner.
"All right," a frightened Jones said. "I'll get takeout from KFC and put it on my credit card. Will that do?"
"I like the potatoes better at Boston Market," the elderly man said.
An hour later, 60 roasted poultry meals with mashed potatoes were delivered to the Senior Center. When Jones picked a biscuit out of a leftover meal, Ida said, "Mr. Jones, I thought you were fasting."Jones put the biscuit back.