The first record album I ever owned was by The Beatles. I might have been too small to understand it, but I played Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band over and over, drawn to the strange, surrealistic lyrics in songs such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” painting a phantasmagoria of worlds to imagine. Picture yourself in a boat on a river/With tangerine trees and marmalade skies and Picture yourself on a train in a station/With plasticine porters with looking glass ties.
I didn’t know what psychedelia was—or surrealism for that matter—but I did grasp that these guys were creating new worlds worth exploring. My unknowing fascination with the changing realities, shifting cadences and curious phrasing in “A Day in the Life”—He blew his mind out in a car/He didn’t notice that the lights had changed—was later eclipsed by the single “Strawberry Fields Forever.” It was the curious lyrics—Living is easy with eyes closed/Misunderstanding all you see—but much more the hard-to-grasp, slowed-down vocals and soundscapes that drew me in and made a little boy yearn to know more.
You might wonder what this all has to do with Thanksgiving. Well, I started to think about who I’d like to invite to Thanksgiving dinner if I could choose anyone, living or dead. It would be a little easy to say all of the Beatles, just so I could watch them talking to each other and occasionally including me in the mix. Oh, how I longed as a boy to be in their company. Their breakup and then John Lennon’s assassination in 1980 didn’t end that hunger. Quite the contrary. But the idea of having a chat with John Lennon to talk about writing or surrealism or song craft or politics—imagine his contributions to the public discourse these days—would be a dream. The fulfillment of a wish.
On the other hand, how I’d love to have even one dinner to talk to Ottokar, the grandfather I never met, who was born in Vienna, served in WWI, became a doctor, came to Berlin and married, escaped to Havana from the Nazis, eventually rejoined the family that had fled to America, worked as a country doctor in a farming town in southern Illinois, and died too young before I was born. How many questions I have for him.
So what about you? What special visitor would you like at Thanksgiving dinner, living or dead? Pick one if you can or a couple if you must. I’m excited to hear who comes to mind. And, given the complexities of Thanksgiving dinners these days for many families, what with the divisive realities spurred by politics, why not let yourself imagine the best holiday dinner ever? As always, please do be respectful of each other’s comments.
One other note: Not sure who you would invite? Have a look at the Sgt. Pepper’s cover. There are plenty of ideas there. Edgar Allen Poe! Bob Dylan! Marlon Brando! Marilyn Monroe!
Mr Jeffrey Bledsoe…… whose description I cannot possibly give justice….but will try
Mr Bledsoe was an elderly Black man who spent his life working as a field laborer including the 60s South…..having endured the vestiges of slavery and the still then present oppression of body and mind for Blacks in the South
He worked with my family on our W TN farm on the outskirts of Memphis and became an enigmatic hero of mine though regrettably I never expressed that to him
He was a large—and very strong—man with white hair and beard and had a warm engaging soul with no acrimony—or hostility—to what had to have been a lifetime of wrongs
We had 7 siblings, and parents who truly lived the Christian example of being kind to one and all
Mr Bledsoe was stunned when I and my family addressed him as “Mr Bledsoe”…..my dad would have had our hide had we done otherwise
Mr Bledsoe worked hard but with a joy and spirit that I had never seen before; I heard him once comment of the lively Civil Rights movement and he said that “there are good people everywhere and it will work out”……carefully avoiding criticism that I knew he had to have felt
I would love to host Mr Bledsoe for Thanksgiving Dinner to tell him how much I loved him, how much I respected him, and to hear his unbridled assessments of all that happened before and has occurred since I came to know him
His words would be worth noting
He was kind to me
James Madison. So I can ask him to solve the question of the 2nd Amendment:
Arms no matter what? Or did he really mean....arms for the Militia?
Except for Clint Eastwood or Gregory Peck, I haven't much interest in celebrities. My musical tastes are the blues and jazz. And so, I choose a family member, long gone but never forgotten, my maternal grandmother, Bertha Scott. She married into a family that was very prominent 7 or 8 centuries ago in Scotland & which claimed knights, ladies, member of Parliament and an advisor to the king. But pretensions were gone by the 20th century. PopPop was a coal miner. Together, they had 11 children, among them, my mother and her identical twin. Mother gave birth at home with only a doctor and Grandmother in attendance. Mother named me Rita after the actress, Rita Hayworth, Gma came up with Joyce. Just thought they sounded good together, I guess.
When I was a little girl, Pop wanted to build me a tent - a blanket over the clothesline. Gma said no. So, he went around to the front door and knocked, then quickly ran in the back door and got the blanket . She huffed and puffed at him, but I noticed a secret smile as she reentered the house.
At the end of a dirt road that led to their house, wild blueberries grew. She would give me a pan, and off I would go to pick them for a pie, but I ran because she told me there were panthers in the woods along the way. I think it was a joke or she would not have let me go, but I was scared and ran like the dickens. She collected salt and pepper shakers that were in an old fashioned glass front cabinet. She knew I loved looking at them, so gave me a dust rag one day and told me to dust each one, a joy. She gave me the Betty Boop ones to keep, a treasure.
After Pop died, she moved into a two family house. It actually had a pump on the back porch for water. None inside.Also, no bathroom, an outhouse across the yard.One Friday night, pay day for the rowdies in Glasgow (a PA town-how Scottish !!) they drank their fill and went on the roam, overturned her outhouse. When she told me about it, we both laughed so hard, we cried. I loved sleeping with her when we visited, the glass chamber sat under the bed, and she joked and told funny stories to me for half the night and made me giggle until my Mother yelled at us, but we didn't care. Two boys next door and I played baseball, they called me Joyce as that is what Gma called me. They would call me that, and I didn't know who they were talking about, not used to being known by that name.
She visited us in her 80s, it was apparent she was starting to suffer from alzheimers: who is that strange man - it was my father. Back from a walk, she refused to go into "someone else's house." Knowing she could not go back to living alone, Mother placed her in an elder home near hers for which Mom was practically disowned by siblings, but none of them offered to take her. The first thing the place did was cut her hair, long enough to sit on and coal black even at that age. The last time I saw her, she was huddled into a little ball in a chair and knew no one. But as I turned to leave, our eyes met, she shook her head a little and smiled. A moment of lucidity.
I loved her. To hear her kidding, laughing once again would be uplifting. We could have blueberry pie.
My deceased parents, my sister who died too young, my brother and family, all my grandparents, and a houseful of new immigrants!
Madeleine Albright - she had a remarkable view of the 20th century and seemed like a truly interesting person.
Jesus Christ. I would like to hear his comments on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In particular, I would love to hear his opinions on today’s “Christians” of all categories and sects, from the Roman Catholic Church to Greek and Russian Orthodox, to Evangelicals, Mormonism, etc.
Martin Luther King, the greatest man of my generation
I saw the Beatles live at their first US performance in Atlantic City, NJ when I was 13. I would like to have my Father back at Thanksgiving. He was killed in an accident when I was 29. I have so much to say to him. He was also the best cook and baker ever. I think we could have the conversation I always wanted to have now. God bless, everyone.
At 67, I retain memories of my dad in small bits and pieces. A hand full of moments from my earliest childhood years..I lost him when I was 7yrs old, and am not able to remember if I was told much about him or by who..He introduced me to Graham Cracker Pie..an 8oz glass of milk with crushed up graham crackers dumped in and mixed until it became a thick mud, needing a spoon to eat..a heavenly gift to the palate to be sure..I still enjoy it now and then to this day..He taught me how to flip over a pencil and use the eraser without tearing the paper..He coached the baseball team for 6 & 7 year olds I played on..And when driving the family car would sometimes use his left leg just above the knee to control the wheel while needing his hands elsewhere..
Later in my life I married a mixed race woman with a young daughter from an earlier marriage..At a point before the wedding my mother told me that my father would not have approved of this marriage, I can’t remember why or any details of that conversation..
The trajectory of the marriage is immaterial, so I will not venture down that path. I’ll just say that my dad would be my invite to Thanksgiving, there’s so much I’d like to talk about with him..
Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Jordan, and Shirley Chisholm.
I'm torn between wanting to sit down to dinner with Frederick Douglass or Abraham Lincoln.
My maternal grandfather, who passed when I was 9. A woodwinds player, I still recall sitting at his feet as he played standards from the big band era. 💕
Hannah Arendt and Ayn Rand--Now, there's some conversation!!!
All my dead relatives, especially my mother, so I could show them some of the love they gave to me through a good meal, deep conversations with their amazing grand to great great great grandchildren, and once more tell them I love them. No one else could compare. Don’t think I’d eat much:).
William Tecumseh Sherman to gain his insights into what he saw as the Confederacy seceded and how he came up with total war concepts and flanking tactics (ahead of his time). Add in Kurt Vonnegut to listen to the stories about how he sees the US today.
I am curmudgeon about Thanksgiving and think it’s a fake holiday. Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating the Pilgrims sitting down with the Native Americans for a great feast
after the white people killed a lot of them and stole all their land? I must have missed something in the translation.
This is my first Thanksgiving after separating from my wife of over 31 years. In order not to be alone and depressed, I’m volunteering at my church to help serve a Thanksgiving meal to other folks who would otherwise be alone for the holiday.
Mr. Beschloss, I’m going to take you up on your discount subscription offer. Very generous of you and I’m grateful.
I guess George Carlin would be a convivial pick…
I enjoy your blog generally and in this case felt a certain kinship with your memories of the Beatles lyrics and your young visualizations. I’m glad you are writing….
My youngest Son. We used to spend thanksgiving with him when we lived up North. But we moved South three years ago and I have health issues I can’t fight the Thanksgiving Flight travel anymore.
He’ll be here for Christmas I look forward to that. I miss the old days when me and my 7 siblings and Mom & Dad and the Grandmas all gathered around the DR table and there was so much food and an enormous Turkey and so many pies. I wish I could go back in time for one more big giant Family Thanksgiving.
My mother. There are things I didn’t ask when she was living because they didn’t seem important at the time. Maybe they’re still not important but her answers would fill in some blanks, satisfy my curiosity. Maybe? Five of her 13 siblings are still with us but I’m not sure they could provide the answers. Certainly not in her voice, with her tone and inflection, or her smile that always seemed to reach her eyes. I miss her still.
Thanks for posing the question. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
I’ll make it an all-American trio of my heroes: Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, and Dorothy Parker. Yes, Dorothy Parker, too. Brilliance, wit, and courage. Clever and clear as bell. Each with an archer’s accuracy describing themselves and humanity.
My grandparents, Mom, aunt, no politics, just a lot of reminiscing and laughter.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Robin Williams, Martin Luther King, Barack Obsma, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Princess Diana, Janis Joplin, Billy Joel, Elton John, James Taylor, Prince, Meryl Streep, Adele are a few I would love to talk to.
Alan Watts. His philosophy to integrate the spiritual world with the material world has fascinated me for a long time.
Being a bit older than you Steven, my first album was the first Beatles album in the US. So yes, how I wish I could have all four of them for dinner. But failing that, Jane Goodall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem, Golda Meir, Bella Abzug - sense a theme here?
I would of course love to sit and talk with many members of my family. For one, my Aunt Shirley, a "spinster" who traveled the world as a secretary for the U.S. Navy, collecting wisdom and memories and gifts she brought me. My parents, of course, who died in 1988 and 1992 and whom I miss every single day. But of all the people I would love to spend some more time with, my pick would be my photography and natural history mentor, John L. Tveten. This tribute to him is long, but you can I hope understand why I would choose him. It is the caption to a photo I shared on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mimbrava/4007596979/), taken at Bryce National Park in October 2009, where I was with him on one of the several Smithsonian Institution wilderness trips he led.
John L. Tveten died yesterday. A renowned naturalist, he was the tour leader on my first Smithsonian Institution trip to Bryce, Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in June of 1980 and on several subsequent wilderness trips I took with him in the early eighties. From the first, he brought out in me, and in so many, a love for the natural world, and I attribute my interest in nature and photography entirely to him. We stayed close friends over the years, and he continued to teach and encourage me and, by phone and mail and then e-mail, to share all the places he and his wife Gloria went to in the U.S. and around the world and all the workshops he led and lectures he gave. The books he wrote and inscribed for me have an honored place in my library. He led a full, rich life and had an enormous impact on thousands of people who were lucky enough to cross paths with him.
With great thanks and great love, I now dedicate my entire Flickr stream, past, present and future, to his memory.
The primary image was taken at Bryce, which was the first national park we went to on that first Smithsonian trip. You’ve seen an earlier iteration of this image on my stream before. More recently, you’ve also seen the orange tulip here on Flickr, but I’m reposting it because I sent an 8x8 framed print of it to John last week, and he told me on the phone that “it is the most gorgeous photo I have ever seen in my life.” Like any great teacher, his impulse, even as he lay dying, was to praise and encourage. Just imagine what those words mean to me, coming from my mentor and most dear friend just days before he passed away. It was going to be his 75th birthday present for October 16th, but he wasn’t destined to reach that three-quarters-of-a-century mark, so it turned out to be a thank-you gift for bringing the joys of nature into my life.
I don’t know if there will be a memorial service for John, but if there is, this is what I wrote:
“There are few who have inspired as many people as John did with his contagious joy in the natural world, the depth and breadth of his knowledge and his wonderful sense of humor and quick wit. Through sometimes gentle, sometimes enthusiastic encouragement, he made you want to learn more, take one more step, do just a little better. Just as he went down a new path in his own life when he switched from being a chemist for Esso to a man of the natural world, he changed the direction of many lives and delighted all he met while a museum lepidopterist, a wilderness tour and photo workshop leader, a watercolor and pen-and-ink artist, a five-star rated author of books for children and adults, a weekly “Nature Trails” columnist for the <i>Houston Chronicle</i> for more than two decades, a world-class photographer whose photos grace the pages of his own and others’ books, and an eloquent lecturer whose masterful slide show images elicited gasps of wonder, whether they were photos of landscapes or of birds, flowers, insects or mammals. We must thank his wife, friend and helpmate Gloria for sharing him with us. With grace and pluck, he survived serious illnesses, accidents and other afflictions over the years, but it was the accursed surprise of liver cancer that took him from us. Thankfully, mercifully, his passing was very peaceful. Loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, teacher, mentor, friend, traveler, naturalist, photographer, artist, author, lecturer, sports fan, joyful presence, John will be missed not just by his beloved family but by the thousands of people for whom he made a difference. I, myself, could not have asked for a more dear friend. His legacy will endure, and his memory will always be a blessing.”
One of my close friends from our first trip with John in June of 1980 is Debbie Cascarino, herself a notable nature photographer. When I told her last week that John was dying, she told me, “My wanting to learn about all of natural history came from him. I always thought, "He not only knows, but loves what he knows. What joy it brings to him. He’s a happy man. What a nice thing to be a part of.”
David L. Wagner, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut and a colleague of John, wrote when I told him about John’s passing, “I have lost three lepidopterological colleagues in the last month...I am deeply saddened by all this. John’s was the greatest loss to the greatest number. The world would have gained much if he could have been with us for another decade.”
I read this poem as part of my eulogy to my father when he died in October 1988. It is even more apt for John:
He is made one with Nature; there is heard
His voice in all her music, from the moan
Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird;
He is a presence to be felt and known
In darkness and in light, from herb and stone,
Spreading itself where’er that Power may move
Which has withdrawn his being into its own;
Which wields the world with never wearied love,
Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above.
~From “Adonais” (1821)
~an elegy on the death of John Keats
~Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
I think I'd love to have dinner and conversation with Mr. & Mrs. Carter.
So many august choices, which reminds me of the wonderful Steve Allen show "Meeting Of The Minds" (I see is available on YouTube!) But hands down it would be my dad, who died when I was four. So many family questions to answer.
My parents. They ￼ both died in their 60s -which was way too young. I’d love for them to be able to see how it all turned out. ￼
I never got to know (actually meet!) both my grandfathers on either side of my family...it would be great to sit with them and learn from their experiences in the late early 1900s....
I would want Gene Sharp as my guest. He help lead the Colour Revolutions that freed many Eastern European countries from the Soviet Union under Gorbachev. These were successful non-violent revolutions based on principles used by Martin Luther King. Maybe you and Timothy Snyder could collaborate and write a book about the tactics and strategies of these nonviolent revolutions that resulted in democracies. Some have lasted; but some are illiberal democracies.
Partial successes sometimes lead to success after many baby steps.
I’d do edits but you do understand me typos I’m sure🙄
I would invite my father who was 45 when I was born, and though he lived to 87, I still have so many questions to ask of him. Like the real story of his time on Guam at the end of WWII. Or what it was like to meet the expectations of society to “be a man”. I would also invite my mother’s father how was in the merchant marines in WWI. I have copies of his correspondence but I know that’s not the truth of what a young man in the early 29th century had to face. As I get older I don’t care about people outside of my family. I want the lived experiences of men and women who I came from. Part 1 was these 2 men. Part 2 would be the women. That discussion would require more strength and probably more wine.
The first one who comes to mind is Paul McCartney, because he's been my hero since 1964, when I was just 14 and fell head over heels in love with The Beatles. But then I gave it some more thought and realized that just the thrill of actually meeting him and having dinner with him would be so fleeting - and after all, what on earth would we find to talk about? So instead, I'd love to have my dad, my mother, and my aunt Mary if I had my druthers, but if I had to only pick two it would be Dad and Aunt Mary - and if only one, Aunt Mary. All were gone in their 70's - well over 20 years ago - but after my divorce in my early 20s I lived with them, right up until each of them died, one by one. I often say how much I wish my Dad could be here to see my grandchildren. He would be so proud! But my husband points out that he's already here, and so is Aunt Mary and Ma. But oh, wouldn't it be great to talk and laugh with them again? After all these years, I still miss them terribly.
I’d like to have dinner with....you. What an interesting family history you have. Your grandfather sounds magnificent. Happy Thanksgiving, to you and your family.
Harriet Tubman & RBG then maybe a david duke, adolph h or trumpkin to learn about ppl of all color, faith & humanity. Would it change their idiot thinking, prob not but great time trying.
Being that I can't have Claude Monet, my very favorite artist, at Thanksgiving, though I will be visiting Givery on a Seine River Cruise in June-July 2023, yay, my dream trip is finally coming true, I hope, I would like @StevenBeschloss and all of the people in this group at my Thanksgiving. I am thankful for all of you in this safe, respectful space, where we get to share ideas and values, and try to make America a better, more democratic place.
I would love to talk to my great grandmother Whittemore when she was like 25. She was a pistol champion and came to Colorado from North Carolina on a horse...As to famous, I'd like to meet with Edward Murrow or Christine McVie.
Darlene mentioned Alan Watts above. He would be enlightening (!). Along with CS Lewis. That would be a sublime conversation.
Our myths about Thanksgiving are in the same vein as that our nation wasn’t racist (and sexist) from day one. I don’t care that families today view the holiday differently (myopically?) and in a more favorable (mythical) light. Isn’t it more important that we tell the truth?
Wait till we meet before you assume the worst. You should come to be the arbiter .
I would invite all the people I tended to avoid as well as those who tended to avoid me in the past. Currently 83 yo I may have few or many guests, so will have extra seating just in case. Smile, smile.
My ultimate Thanksgiving table would be people who would provide exquisite conversation. Kurt Vonnegut, J.D. Salinger, Philip Roth, and Jerry Seinfeld. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Steven, I've waited a bit to respond. Mr. Byrd's words about Jr. Bledsoe are so beautiful! As odd as this may appear to you, I've got to say, I'd love to have Michael Beschloss to Thanksgiving Dinner. Actually, I've three brothers, actually two now. The third, Jim, died of cancer a couple of years ago. I think that he would especially enjoy the repartee with Michael. C'est la vie! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Steven!
I went to upgrade my subscription to take advantage of your “until Black Friday discount” but it was not available. What is the process for the discount?
Ever since I first came upon his work as an undergraduate at the University of Vienna, I have looked to JW Goethe for inspiration and comfort. He was a polymath of great accomplishment and yet was still very human with great emotional complexity. We could listen to a Beethoven and Schubert over dinner and I can’t imagine a more spellbinding encounter.
I would invite my friends from college and grad school, all wonderful people whom I haven’t seen in such a long time-- because, as we all moved into our careers, we became scattered, with me moving the farthest away (to Germany), the others in all of the US time zones.