Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 1978

Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Sill, Thanksgiving memories range from misbehaving relatives to overeaten feasts.  Probably my most memorable Thanksgiving was 1978, We lived in Brussels, Belgium, where I worked for the U.S. Department of State.  Of course, Belgium did not celebrate American Thanksgiving, but my employer took an official four-day weekend holiday, for which I rented a gites, a cabin in the woods, in the Ardennes, an easy family drive 40 miles south of Brussels.

Thursday morning, my wife Annette, three teenage children, Ward, John , and Heidi, and I hopped a train in Dinant, rode several miles up the Lesse River Valley, and rendezvoused with kayak outfitters for a float back down river.  Chatteaux lined the high river banks.  The weather was sunny but chilly.  The ride back to Dinant by kayak took hours.  It was easy to get wet.

A sign across the river about two-thirds of the way back warned: “Barrage Dangereuse.”   We grew attentive.  We discovered a concrete barrier, over which the river spilled, with a 90 degree drop of about a five feet.  I directed everyone to pull onto the bank, from which we could portage the kayaks beyond the drop.  I stood below the barrier, shouting instructions.  This went well enough, until I reached for my daughter’s hand, urging her, “Be Careful.”  My foot slipped on a slick rock, and down I went into the cold water.  Everybody laughed but me. 

When we arrived in Dinant again, everyone was cold, wet, and in need of a bathroom break.  We had parked our car, a big Ford station wagon, in the lot at the train station.  Back inside the big Ford, we cranked up the heater to full blast, and at least one of us reflexively pissed our already wet trousers.

After changing into dry clothes at the cabin in the woods, we had our Thanksgiving Dinner at a restaurant in downtown Dinant that specialized in wild game.  Frog legs, rabbit, boar, venison, plus a platter of a variety of pickles and cheeses. 

Afterwards, we returned to the cabin, turned on the television.  On the news was dramatic and incomprehensible reporting so beyond  belief that those of us who thought we had some ability to understand the French language were embarrassed that nothing on the television made any sense.  However, the problem was not language, only incomprehensible reality.  What they were reporting on the French television was the Jonestown Murder/Suicide Massacre in Guyana Nov. 18, 1978, the previous weekend.

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