This Thanksgiving day, like the previous three November holidays, will find the lovely Catherine and me about as far east from the harvested Illinois fields as one can get and still be on American soil.
In fact, we’ll be on federal soil, just seven blocks from the U.S. Capitol, at daughter Gracie’s place in Washington, D.C.
Any national holiday in the District of Columbia comes with benefits but the winter ones, especially Thanksgiving, carry unique pleasures.
First, the city is virtually empty. Most Capitol Hill staffers and their bosses are in North Dakota or Oklahoma or any of their other 48 home states. That leaves the 1,000-acre National Mall and its many — and all free — museums as quiet as the Aberdeen, SD Regional Airport on Easter Sunday.
That’s a double bonus because, outside the roasting hot month of July and the steam bath that is August in D.C., Washington is one of the great walking cities of the world. Its Thanksgiving near-emptiness and usually mild Novembers make morning and evening walks a blessed retreat.
The wanderings can yield bonuses. For example, on a solo, mid-Thanksgiving morning hike to the White House a couple of years back I was showing off my rural roots by not jaywalking across a perfectly deserted Pennsylvania Avenue.
When the light changed and I finally stepped into the street a shiny Dodge pick-up cut me off mid-avenue.
“Hey, fella,” a lady in polar-fleece from ears to arms said out of the passenger window, “how about a hot Thanksgiving meal?”
A big paper sack extended from her gloved hand.
“Uh, me? No, I’m just out for a walk.”
“You sure, fella?” she asked. “You certainly look like you could use a hot meal.”
She had a point. My hooded sweatshirt was more a billboard for Stihl chainsaw oil than warmth and a sun bleached St. Louis Cardinals cap looked like a Salvation Army retread. Three-day old whiskers added to my living-really-low appearance.
“Take it,” she said, shaking it like a wet cat. “It’s OK to be poor.”
Pass it along
Well, she had another point — especially if you’re in a chrome-dripping pickup truck and branded sportswear — so I took it and I packed it to the White House before handing it over to an even needier-looking guy shuffling slowly through Lafayette Park.
“Happy Thanksgiving, man,” he said as I gave him the bag.
I took the long mosey back up the still-green Mall to the shiny Capitol, then around its Senate’s side to the Supreme Court building to ensure its motto, “Equal Justice Under the Law,” still covered its west facade and the nation. It did.
A few minutes later I was back at Gracie’s place, thankful that my dinner and family awaited and not a lukewarm meal from a paper sack.
I’ll make several D.C. treks this holiday. A short one will take me south to the Navy yard and its stunning, almost secret museum, then back past Marine barracks to a bike shop on Eighth Street.
Another will swing north to Stanton Park, left to bustling Union Station, then maybe a quiet, slow walk through the National Portrait Gallery and then — who could have guessed? — I’ll find myself in front of a favorite Irish pub near the Verizon Center.
As usual, one hike will go west past the Washington Monument to again visit the brother of a high school friend at the Vietnam Memorial, to tremble (again) at the feet of Abraham Lincoln and to view, for the first time, the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
And on my way back to Gracie’s, each time I will, again, marvel at this city’s striking monuments and wonder who among today’s leaders might merit such honor and esteem.