The Marshall Plan: Feasting with friends real and imagined

Let me preface this column with a simple thank you to my readers. I’m grateful for all the people who open a newspaper for the purpose of reading it.

If you use it to wrap some fried fish or crack some crabs, I understand. The joy of food can supersede almost any other activity. A large section of the human brain must be dedicated to memories of food. From our first taste of chocolate to our final Ensure, food plays a central role in all our lives.

My late 80-something grandfather was once asked by his 80-something girlfriend what weapon he would choose to defend her honor. She knew he was a military man, swimmer, boxer, and fencing master.

She imagined a bloody duel.

His answer was silly, but in another way it was genius.

He said, “My dear, I would choose a knife and fork.”

Personally, there are precious few things in life that can calm my inner demons, focus my attention and enrich my soul. There’s surf fishing at dawn, love, writing, sleeping through Little Bear, soccer goals, rushing touchdowns, reggae music, God and cooking.

In my opinion Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays. When it is done well it includes gratitude, faith, family and feasting. Over my lifetime I have learned to cherish everyone’s presence at my table, even the ones someone else invited. Our time on earth is transient, let’s not be surly.

Savor your food and let your dinner wine tickle your tongue like a prom date from the wrong side of the tracks. Let there be prayers of thankfulness and don’t worry about the damn dishes.

Don’t argue over politics. Turn off all 24-hour news channels. Don’t worry about Christmas sales. Stop romancing your phone and look someone in the eyes.

Hams are pre-cooked for a reason, take the hint.

Aside from my own beloved family, I would love to assemble a group of writers for a Thanksgiving dinner. This fantasy team of sorts could provide a kaleidoscope of opinions, stiff drinks, wit and insight.

Writers are usually ready for a free meal. Understand that half of them would rather do something else, others wouldn’t show up until 5-minutes before the deadline and, of course, the rest would drink too much.

Here’s how I would envision it.

I’d drop by the kitchen for drinks with Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson.

Imagine having Wild Turkey, football and social commentary with the good doctor, then discussing fishing, Green Isaac cocktails and tales of bravery with Papa.

“Any man’s life, told truly, is a novel,” Hemingway would say. “Who wants to fish or box?”

“Buy the ticket and take the ride,” Thompson would add. “Who’s playing today? Life without football is not worth living.”

C.S. Lewis would offer our prayer.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream,” he would say. “Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.”

At the dinner table the discussions would bring smiles as plates of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes would circulate.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world,” J.R.R. Tolkien would say.

“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow,” A.A. Milne would add.

“There is one thing more exasperating than a wife who can cook and won’t, and that’s a wife who can’t cook and will,” poet Robert Frost would say with a nervous chuckle.

All of us would laugh when Oscar Wilde would suggest a fruity dessert, then flip his cape over his shoulder and say, “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

Mark Twain would sum it all up alongside the fireplace.

“I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on the hearth on a winter’s evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream… I know how winter apples, cider, make old people’s tales and old jokes sound fresh, crisp and enchanting.”

Just when it was all calming down Charles Bukowski would blurt out, “Life’s as kind as you let it be.”

Marshall Conner is a regular contributor to the Culpeper Times. He can be reached at