My most memorable Thanksgiving ever was exactly 20 years ago, in 1989, when I was a student at the University of Oregon.
My mother had gotten remarried a few weeks before, so I’d just made the trip home and spent time with all the family. Rather than make the five-hour journey again I decided to stay on campus that year.
Like many out-of-state students, I didn’t know people in the city where I studied - not unless they were connected with the university. A friend who was not leaving town until Friday wrangled a Thanksgiving dinner invitation for the two of us, but after that I was on my own.
All campus services, including the cafeteria, were basically closed down for the four days. So I went to the student union building and tried to take some cash out of the ATM to buy groceries and maybe start my Christmas shopping.
Unfortunately there was a bit of a problem with the ATM machine; it “ate” my card. The way banking worked in those days, the only local businesses that would accept my out-of-state checks were the ones related to the school, and I don’t think I had a credit card at the time.
So for the next three days I’d have to find a way to feed and entertain myself alone and with the $5 in my wallet.
There’s a poetry in limitations. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a long weekend more.
I went for walks along the river, explored the woods, and sat for hours by the window of my third-floor dorm room looking out at the rain and trees and thinking slow thoughts. I savored the Anne Tyler novel I’d picked up for the occasion – reading a novel instead of a college text being quite the luxury. I spent my $5 on a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, a block of cheese, and apples - filling in the gaps with ramen noodles and tea.
When friends trickled their way back to campus throughout the afternoon on Sunday I was glad to see them. But I had enjoyed my time alone.