There have been some memorable Thanksgivings in my life. There was one in Capri, where I had a villa high on the side of Monte Solaro. It was one of those days that go quickly. We sat there full of wonderful wine and turkey and breathed the golden air and watched the islands down the coast turn three-dimensional in the pale blue sea as the sun descended. Then there was our grandest Thanksgiving in Paris just after the war. The turkey was prepared by Willie, our cook from Alsace. He had sawed the legs, wings and breast off the bird, transforming it into a fancy basket stuffed with boiled chestnuts and decorated with truffles, flowers and fruits. We ate dozens of the French oysters called B�lon, perhaps the world's best, all kinds of vegetables, salads, desserts and the famous cheeses: Roquefort, Camembert, St. Nectaire, Cantal, Brie and others. We were about a dozen, and we drank eight bottles of white and eight bottles of red and a couple of bottles of brandy. The feasting took several hours with time out now and again for some singing. These were ideal days. But the most satisfying Thanksgiving of all came during World War II, when I was working as a mechanic in an aircraft plant outside Trenton, N.J.
I had been rejected by Uncle Sam's military service not because I am, as a friend put it, built like a Perrier bottle, but because of my age and a number of dependents. When I went into that factory to do My Bit, the image I had created for myself was one of Aircraftsman Chapman, but I soon realized I was simply riveter-assembler 13-1973 and for richer or for poorer, a member of Local Union 731, International Union, United Automobile Aircraft & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (CIO).
On that Thanksgiving Day I left my bed at 4:30 as usual to get to the plant before 6 and punch the clock in plenty of time. A lopsided moon was falling over Trenton; a sharp wind blew across the icy river. From quite a distance—a mile or so from the factory—you could see white clouds of steam billowing into the moonlit sky.
Although I hated the plant, there was something electric about going into its warmth and bustle on the cold tag end of the night.
It was a usual day at the plant with my drill motor driving all thought from my mind as it and I installed a tailgunner's window in No. 4 plane. My head was still humming at 2 o'clock, and I was hungrily thinking of the coming turkey dinner as I put my tools away and went out into a white world. It had started snowing. Driving up the Pennsylvania side of the river I saw lots of ducks, mostly mallards and bluebills. Nearer home I saw some Canada geese and, quite rare, two swans. As I rounded the bend between Sullivans' and our house, I saw a big cock pheasant glide into the little field south of our barn. It strengthened my thoughts of turkey.
I put the car in the barn and went straight to the kitchen door. Ann and her mother, Dandy, were working around among some steaming pots. I was still in my white coveralls, stained with Thiokol, putty and hydraulic fluid.
"How big a bird did you get?" I asked.
"All they had were tough, old, blue, skinny things," Ann said, looking squarely at me. Then she delivered the stunning blow.
"We're having roast pork."
My head started to swim and I may have tottered a bit.