Ever since I was 14, our Thanksgiving dinner was pizza, but not just any pie, Thanksgiving pizza. No turkey, our bird of choice is goose. Mozzarella, provolone, goose, and Parmesan cornbread croutons. I know it sounds strange, but it was never weirder than the first year.
It’s not because the turkey wouldn’t defrost, or Mom broke her foot. We had everything in place two weeks before, Mom is always prepared. That Thanksgiving the whole adventure could be laid at the feet of Grandpa Joseph.
He had been a small time lawyer in Minnesota for twenty years, until one case. That case took everyone on a whirlwind adventure to Chicago that’s still going twenty some years later. It all started with the lack of a toothpick.
Grandpa was eating at the local diner, it had been a really long day. He had lost a case. After a long after court session with his client, where he was the recipient of a lot of yelling, Grandpa grabbed a burger.
“Val you go ahead and go to rehearsal, I’m just going to grab a bite, and meet you there after, I didn’t get lunch.” She understood and he ordered at Tony’s. He was crunching on ice, waiting on a double bacon burger when he heard a voice from his past.
“Joseph Crosby, how’s your three pointer these days?” Grandpa Joseph looked around to see Maxwell Lane. Mr Lane was an old college Buddy, one of the country’s most famous men, and a lawyer who had tried and won cases before the Supreme Court.
“What happened to you man? I thought you we’re going to Los Angeles when you got out of law school. I always hated we lost touch.”
“I met a girl who didn’t want to go, and I couldn’t go without her. So I started a small practice here. We’re very happy, own our home, the kids went to college, and they’re all two houses away.”
Small talk happened for a little while, then he drifted to a table. That would have been it, except for the aforementioned toothpick. Tony’s was a diner, truth is, they were blessed to have paper napkins.
So Mr. Lane skipped his regular toothpick ritual after the fish and chips, but he just had to try a piece of Tony’s pecan pie. The next thing Grandpa Joseph heard was the banging on the table. He went into action before he even realized it.
Grandpa Joseph did the heimlich, and the pecan went flying across the room. Max vowed to eat pumpkin from then on, and he hates pumpkin. “Joseph, thank you, you saved my life!”
“Anyone would have Max. I didn’t even realize what was happening til that pecan was gone. Besides if I hadn’t saved your life, the bar association would have banned me from stepping into a courtroom ever again.”
They laughed, had a coffee, and said goodbye. Grandpa thought that was that, but it was just getting started. Mr Lane made a phone call.
“Dad, I’m so glad you’re alive, but a country lawyer, they’ll eat him alive. It’s, it’s just not a good idea. The partners will laugh at you.”
“Tim, they may laugh behind my back, but they wouldn’t dare laugh in my face. At least not before I leave. Trust me, it will be grand, besides I like country lawyers, I used to be one.”
“All right Dad, I just want everything to be perfect for you. If you have to do this, and you know I’m not crazy about you leaving, we’ll try it. I can’t promise anything though, but I will try.”
Max told us all this a long time later. It was after that phone call, he had hope for the first time in a while. Fame and wealth weren’t as great as you might think, there are problems money and power can’t solve.
Grandpa met Grandma Val at the theater after rehearsal and they got an ice cream before going home. “Joseph, you saved his life. That’s huge, I’m so proud of you.”
“Max said that too but anybody would have done it honey. I’m just glad he’s okay. It was good to see him though, he’s a good guy. Max is self made, he worked very hard to get where he is. His family didn’t have anything when he started.”
“So have you. You know if we had gone to Los Angeles, you would have been just as famous. Don’t let one loss get you down, besides even Max couldn’t have won that case. You took it as a favor to the guy, and told him he’d lose up front.”
“Yeah, somehow he forgot that today. You should have heard him. Anyway, it’s behind me now. How did rehearsal go?”
“Horrible. My lead actor wants to direct, and argues with me every minute. The lead actress slipped and sprained her ankle. The writer of the play ran out of the theater in tears. So typical first practice.”
Grandma Val had been an actress and director in the local community theater ever since she was a teenager. At one point everyone thought she would go to Hollywood, that’s why Grandpa had agreed to work at the firm in California, but it all fell through.
The thoughts of Hollywood were too big for Grandma. She could have handled bigger than our little town, but not California big. It’s not that she couldn’t do it, she knew it was not what she wanted. Grandpa didn’t care either way, he just wanted to be where she was. He still does, and always will.
The rest of the evening was uneventful, but Grandpa got a call the next morning. “Joseph, can you come by the Hollis Inn, I’ve got a question for you,”. He agreed, but had no idea what he was getting into.
Max started as soon as they met there for lunch. “This is a nice place. My son Tim would love it. He’s become more interested in places like this in the last couple of years.”
“Joseph, I don’t think us meeting was an accident, I’m planning something, and I’d like your help. I’m leaving my law firm, retiring, to pursue a passion of mine. I need someone to facilitate the transition for my son.”
Grandpa must have looked skeptical, he knew Max was leaving something out. “The partners don’t want him. They want to give him a bigger office, let him be the face of the firm, and them run it. I won’t do that to my son. We made a deal.”
“He’s got one year to run things his way. To agree they said I have to be out of state, effective day one. The only real concession is he has to have a representative of mine sign off on any major decision. I don’t want even that, but I do want to give him someone to have his back. Support him please, if I’m there they’ll only see me. I want them to see him.”
“Max, a year? It would uproot my wife. My family wouldn’t know how to act with us gone.”
“Look, before you say no, hear me out. I know a year is a lot to ask, but beyond the money, what do you need to make it happen. I love my son, and I trust you. Please, nothing is too much.”
Grandpa Joseph looked at Max. “Look, I don’t care about money, and I’m not concerned about my career at this point. I do care about family, yours, but also my own.”
“We’ll need a house big enough for the kids and grandkids to visit any time. Also frequent flyer miles so they can come and go any time. A car for me and my wife, and an introduction to the local community theater for my wife. She will not take a handout but would want to work if she decides to go with me.”
“Then you’ll do it? You’ll go? I need you to leave in two days, you would have to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas there. We have to act before the partners change their mind. An I have to give you a large salary, otherwise the board will think I pulled a ringer.”
Grandpa also wasn’t stupid. “If you insist. Besides I could use a new tv. Now tell me, why retire? What are you wanting to do?”
“Can I be honest? I’m tired, I haven’t wanted to be a lawyer for ten years. My son is the only reason I stayed. Truth be told, I’d like a little time for another passion.”
“I started painting twenty years ago. I’m even in a gallery or two, so first and foremost I want him to be okay. Second, I’d like a little time to do more of that. Tim went through some tough times, now he doesn’t know it, but Tim needs me to go.”
“What will you do? Where will you go? How will the board know your son isn’t just carrying out your orders?”
“That’s the other part. I have to be out of Chicago the entire year. It’s part of the agreement. How about I maintain your practice here? I loved being a small town lawyer, this major career thing was accidental. I only did it because people needed me, and it turned into more than I wanted.”
Grandma Val thought the entire thing was bonkers, her words, but she also loved an adventure. She is a character, except for the gray hair, she seems twenty years younger than she is.
All of us couldn’t live there of course, but we could go with them initially. First to help them get settled. Second because it was going to be Thanksgiving soon.
My Dad Wil, my Mom Lisa, my sister Brittany, and I were excited. This was a big trip for us. Aunt Daphne, Dad’s sister, Uncle Evan, and baby Sarah would fly out the day before Thanksgiving. I’m Jack, and what a year.
By the time everything was in place, we all headed to Chicago three days before Thanksgiving. The house they gave Grandpa had everything, including a beautiful kitchen, with no food whatsoever. We ate out the first couple nights, but the night before Thanksgiving, Grandma sent Grandpa, Dad, and me to the store to get everything for Thanksgiving dinner.
It may be cliche, but I expected tears any second from both of them. Grandma had a meeting with the local community theater director, and Mom had an emergency conference call with the startup she worked for. That meant the three of us were sent out into the cold, and a strange grocery store with a full list.
We were pressed for time because we we’re supposed to meet my Aunt and Uncle back at the house from the airport. Grandpa Joseph took one look at the line when they entered the store. Grandpa looked at Dad with a mixture of bravery and fright.
“Wil, on those few times in my marriage I went against tour Mother’s wishes, I had an ironclad argument. Tonight, I simply don’t want to wait four hours in a grocery store. How mad do you think she’ll be?”
“Worst case, you could always do what you did the year you accidentally burned down Grandma Perrino’s portrait with the vacuum cleaner. If she bought that, she’ll buy this. Jack, you’re my witness this was Dad’s idea.”
I wasn’t stupid, I didn’t say a word. Grandpa Joseph pointed to the car. We drove around for forty minutes, a dazed look on all of our faces. Then Grandpa suddenly pulled over. He almost bolted from the car. Thirty minutes later we we’re back at the house. Grandpa and Dad clutched the two bags from the little Mom and Pop food store like they were gold.
When Grandma Val got home, she was so on cloud nine about working with a Chicago theater, even a small one, he got away with it. At least that is, she didn’t ask any questions that night. She even smiled in admiration when he said, “You don’t worry about a thing, this year I’m cooking Thanksgiving.”
Baby Sarah and her parents being there helped of course. At one she was cute enough to distract from anything, well most things. At dawn, Grandpa headed to the kitchen. He got Dad out of bed, who in turn got me out.
The first hour they stood in the kitchen, making a lot of noise, cooking nothing. Grandpa was about to admit failure when he got a call from Tim Lane. “Mr Crosby I know it’s Thanksgiving, but I have to see you. Please can I come by the house?”
Grandpa said yes on two conditions. Tim agreed and was there within the hour. “I had some pulled goose meat, provolone, and some Alfredo. Mr Crosby, I’ll cook while you help me figure out how to fix this.”
“Tim, call me Joseph. I work for you remember. Now, can you tell me what your Dad didn’t? I know all of this has more connected to it.”
“About two years ago, I had a nervous breakdown, after getting shot by my fiancé. Dad helped me through it, but the firm lost all confidence in me. They don’t believe I can run things. I think Dad is afraid if he doesn’t work this out for me that I’ll relapse.”
At that point I spoke up. I couldn’t help myself. “What did you do to get shot by the girl you were gonna marry?”
Dad gave me a look, but Tim laughed. “She got upset when I decided we weren’t getting married. Walking in overhearing her plans to get rid of me on the honeymoon changed my mind. She wasn’t a nice person.”
“Here’s the thing. She shot me in the chest, and it almost hit my heart. It was touch and go, and then I lost it. Dad was afraid he’d lose me. He couldn’t fix me, so he decided to fix everything for me.”
“I don’t want that firm, but he thanks I do. I don’t, and it’s not because I’m scared I can’t, it’s because I I don’t want it. I’ve found what I want, I just need a way out that won’t hurt him.”
“Tomorrow the board is going to officially sign the document for Dad’s agreement and I’ll be locked in. I was going to go through with it, but I can’t. Andrea my fiancé says I can’t go through with it.”
Again I couldn’t help myself. “The one that tried to kill you? Are you sure she’s the best person to listen too?”
Tim laughed. “No, different girl, I ended up dating the prosecutor. I think Claudia is out on parole, and working on her third marriage. Joseph, I can’t do this anymore. Please help me.”
What he could do, was cook the best pizza I had ever had in my fourteen years, or to this day. It was like I said at the beginning, goose meat instead of turkey, but it became our go too after that. Turns out, Tim was an incredible chef.
He had started cooking when recovering two years ago. He loved cooking. Tim ended up staying with us for dinner. It’s a good thing he made 6 pizzas, they were gone by Friday. I think I ate one whole one myself.
Back to Thanksgiving day though, Tim and Grandpa discussed everything over coffee and doughnuts. Our Thanksgiving dessert that year. We moved on to more options after that, but we never gave up on the pizza. Grandpa did what he did best, he listened.
“Tim, let me ask you an odd question. Did you know your Dad painted? He says he’s in a gallery or two.”
Tim smiled, “Dad’s a great artist. I’ve tried to get him to pursue it more for years. For some reason, he said there were more important things. I’d love to see him do what he loves. Truth be told, I’d love to do what I love to do.”
Grandpa nodded at the kitchen. “Like maybe open a restaurant? How long have you hated being a lawyer? Since the accident, or before?”
Again, Tim smiled. “I’ve hated it since before I was one. I don’t think Dad has liked it since after he started the firm. For some reason, he couldn’t leave. He said somethings were more important, and that I’d understand when I got older.”
Dad spoke up this time. I kept from grinning at him. “Then why would you ever become a lawyer to start with?”
Tim looked at Dad and then Grandpa Joseph. “A big firm lawyer has to spend a lot of time at the office. Dad always put us first, but he worked long hours. It may sound silly, but I wanted to be near Dad. Now he’s leaving, and I’ll be stuck with the firm.”
“Tim, have you told your Dad any of this? Does he know you want to run a restaurant? Does he realize you hate your job as much as he does?”
“This firm is his baby. I can’t tell him, it will break his heart. I need a way out, but not that way. Listen, it’s probably too late anyway. I’ll go and leave you all to your holiday.”
“It’s the first year I can’t see Dad, partner rules that he had to go. They want this to be as hard as possible, so we’ll give up. Like it or not, neither Dad or I would want them to win.”
“Wil, get that internet call up and running on the iPad. It’s time somebody talked to somebody else. Tim, set down. Let’s have a talk with your Dad over something besides Turkey!”
As soon as Max said hello, and everyone said hi, Grandpa started talking, and no one else did for awhile. “You both love each other, but you’ve not told each other how you really feel because you’re afraid you’ll hurt one another. You’re paying me to facilitate, so here goes.”
“Max, you stayed because you wanted to give your son the best. He’s a lot like his Dad. He hates being a lawyer, at least the massive firm version. You want to be an artist. He wants to be a chef in his own restaurant.”
“The other problem is you both don’t want the partners to win. I don’t know if you’re both just stubborn, or they’re bullies. If neither one of you wants to be there, let them activate your buy out option. It will be enough for him to start the restaurant, and you to paint. What’s the problem with doing this?”
Tim spoke first. “Dad can’t just walk away from his life’s work. This isn’t about me, it’s about his legacy. I won’t ruin that.”
Grandpa didn’t blink, he didn’t have time to, Max spoke. “Son, it’s not about legacy, at least not that place. It’s about you, and what I can give to you, and to your kids when they come. You’re the only thing I’m interested in providing for.”
“Joseph, they’re not evil people. They just view the firm the way Tim thought I did. All this was really aimed at getting me to stay. I wanted Tim to be happy, and I thought getting out from under me might make that happen. I can see now I was reading the evidence wrong.”
They talked for a little while longer, but the important stuff had been hashed out. Max called the partners, and they bought out Max and Tim. They moved to our town, buying the Hollis Inn, and Tim opened up a very successful restaurant. His new wife became a Judge eventually. Max’s paintings filled the restaurant, and he turned Grandpa’s old office into an art gallery.
So you’re probably wondering how we ended up in Chicago right? No, Grandpa didn’t stay with the firm, Grandma got discovered. The little community theater turned out to be frequented by a big name semi-retired broadway director. He had one more movie in him, and Grandma became the supporting lead.
The movie was set in Chicago, partially because he didn’t want to go back to Hollywood for more than a few days. Offers poured in, but she refused them, at least the movie ones. This did however make every big theater in Chicago want her. She even did broadway in a musical or two.
Grandpa had never moved to Hollywood because she didn’t want to go. Chicago was big, but it was manageable to her. So he went along with her and managed her business affairs. I ended up following, and became a director here.
Mom and Dad visit, but they stayed at home, so did my Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin. She became a chef, and is now works at Tim’s third restaurant, where every November, Thanksgiving Pizza with Goose, no turkey, is on the menu.
Oh I should mention one more thing. It’s about the movie Grandma made that made her famous. Believe it or not, it was called November Choices. All of this craziness taught me something really important. It’s something my family had been trying to teach me all of my life. Family’s more important than career, and the people you love matter too much to make an assumption.