In my family, our dominant Thanksgiving tradition isn’t the filling or the cornbread or the onion casserole. It’s not football. It is not a dispute about our microscopic political differences.
We gather, we all talk at the same time, we eat, we all talk louder at the same time while gesturing irregularly, and then, before dessert . . . « The children » pull up the clamps and the tournament begins.
The roster has shifted slightly over time, but this is always an intergenerational conflict. I ruthlessly beat my sons and nephews on the final lap to get the win. You returned the favor. My father – now 91 – played and sometimes won. Dad, who taught my big brothers and me how to play when we were little, has now retired from the racetrack and is ping pong guru emeritus. My mother never picks up a paddle, but she never misses the opportunity to cheer on the ping pong herd.
To witness the fast-paced action and the funny repetition, we take turns squeezing into one or the other cellar, which is blessed with a table tennis table. Our ping pong skills range from weak to marginal, but as spectators we are all excellent.
The crazy, crazy Hijinx is the highlight of not just the day, not just the season, but for some of us also the year.
Everything changed in 2020. The pandemic rages on and so we will not gather for Thanksgiving. My parents will be alone, as will their children and grandchildren. We know it could be worse; We know knock on wood we’ll be fine.
But . . . but . . . but . . . the ping pong tables will sit. Neutral. Quiet. Alone. That just feels too insulted.
So the search. Day and night we blinked at the search results and looked for virtual ping-pong rescue. I mean, if big minds can invent robotic vacuums and pumpkin spice beer, then of course they must have invented a clever way to use computers to play table tennis with distant relatives on Thanksgiving?
Our hopes faded. Our spirits faded. We half-heartedly discussed some potential alternative virtual word game competitions.
Last week she emailed us, lured us in with the subject line « You’ll never guess » and continued with the message extracted here:
… who I just spoke to on the phone – on the subject of table tennis. because I thought, hey, why not go to the top people in the business?
so I did and amazingly found the personal phone number of will shortz – the Nytimes puzzle guy who does word puzzles on Sunday mornings too.
As many of you know, he is also a professional table tennis player. He also owns the Westchester table tennis center.
So I called him, he replied, I introduced myself and explained my mission. He was as nice and friendly as possible.
Around the world – when the email reached the eyeballs of the Brody diaspora, there was stunned silence. Until (well, I’m imagining this whole scene, but it’s probably right) a universal scream was heard, « WHAT? »
You don’t dream around and kvetch, you take the bull by the horns. Would you like virtual table tennis? You call the ping pong guy coldly. The ping pong guy is a big deal? So what, ask him anyway.
With no forehand strokes to support us and with my mother setting the stage, we can now focus on our gratitude.
You may have assumed that it would have occurred to me, the journalist, to ask the well-known expert Will Shortz for virtual ping-pong, as I happen to host the WBUR weekend edition, and so in a sense I am on air with NPR puzzle master Will Shortz, who hosts The Puzzle every Sunday.
The idea of tracking down a cult hero for a chance consultation about vacation recreation options would seem like a stretch to some people. Mama is clearly not human.
Will Shortz happens to be right. Online table tennis is just bad. In this way the ball bounces, which is cracked by hitting the low basement ceiling. There is no substitute for a junk ping-pong table in a dusty basement with magical markings on easel paper clips on the walls. We’ll turn around somehow.
Incredible. The very idea that you got Will Shortz to save Brody Thanksgiving via virtual ping pong is a definite silver lining by 2020.
With barely a forehand strike to support us, and with my mother setting the stage, we can now focus on our gratitude. Gratitude for my parents and for each other and for our memories and for the future and for the coming triumphs in this epoch of dystopian disease.
Sharon Brody Twitter News AnchorSharon Brody is the voice of WBUR’s weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for the Weekend Edition and other popular programs.
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