Jeff Graham is the executive director of Georgia Equality.
Thanksgiving Recollections: A time to remember, celebrate and be grateful
Like so many long-time Atlanta residents, one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories involves the lighting of the Rich’s Great Tree downtown. What makes my memory different from most, however, is that it is also one of my favorite ACT UP/Atlanta memories.
In early 1991, ACT UP/New York staged a “Day of Desperation” with demonstrations throughout the city. Wanting to prove that we could do our own series of major actions, we decided to declare the period from Thanksgiving to World AIDS Day (December 1) as our own Days of Desperation. Over a four-day period, we held actions throughout the city to draw attention to the need for education, prevention measures, and research surrounding AIDS.
On Thanksgiving Day, our team of activists ate an early dinner and then checked into an old hotel that was located near the Rich’s Department Store and the Five Points MARTA Station downtown. We had reserved a specific room that faced the Rich’s building under the pretense that we were a couple wanting to celebrate our anniversary in the room that had special significance for us. No one from the hotel staff seemed to notice that when we checked in we had no luggage, but did have a rather large spotlight… and an entourage of about a dozen people, many sporting black leather biker-jackets.
As the sun set and the crowds gathered (most of them sweet families from the suburbs) half of our team took to the streets handing out fliers and condoms. The fliers provided some startling statistics about the lack of medications, the need for housing, and the urgency of providing effective prevention messages. The goal was to remind those attending the festive event that somewhere in Atlanta and throughout the world, people were dying of a preventable disease that no one wanted to talk about.
As the pre-show music began to play, those of us in the hotel room switched on the spotlight. Suddenly on the wall just beyond the Great Tree itself, the words: “STOP AIDS” appeared in giant block letters. We tried it first with a red filter, but only the stark white light could compete with the Christmas lights and gospel choirs.
It was a good 45 minutes before hotel security, accompanied by two very angry women from the tree-lighting committee, appeared at the hotel door. When they told us we could not shine the light out of the hotel room, I asked them to show me the hotel policy or city ordinance that prevented it. They were not amused.
As the hotel staff and the Atlanta police desperately searched for some legal means of shutting us down, I debated the finer points of the First Amendment with the very angry women. They insisted that a family-oriented holiday event was not the proper time to speak of AIDS.
I countered that death did not take a holiday and that the real outrage was the lack of attention the growing epidemic was receiving in the press, by local officials and by society at-large. They insisted I was patronizing and belligerent, I insisted that they were living a life of privilege if AIDS had not yet affected their families.
Eventually the crowds began to dissipate and we agreed to turn out the light.
Over the next three days, our other actions included the dropping of a half-dozen banners over local highway overpasses, the releasing of several balloon-supported banners at local malls, and the release of a 15’ x 40’ banner at a Falcon’s football game. Our wily band of activists had done our best. Would Atlanta notice?
The next week, the AJC ran an editorial denouncing our methods as childish, but urged local leaders to do more to fight the epidemic.
It was a Thanksgiving to be grateful for.
Joan P. Garner is the Commissioner for Fulton County District 6.
Thanksgiving Recollections: A Cook Comes Out
My partner Jane and I were in the third year of our relationship and celebrating our third Thanksgiving together.
I am a pretty good cook, but few people know this. I try to keep that secret to myself.
Jane, on the other hand, loves to cook and is an excellent baker. On our first date, she actually brought food to my house and cooked dinner for me. Dinner was great, so Jane just kept on cooking — for the following three years. I was too happy to let her do most of the cooking since she enjoyed it so much. Why spoil the fun for her?
On this particular Thanksgiving we invited members of my family to Atlanta from Washington, D.C. to visit for the weekend. This was exciting to us because we would host our very first big family Thanksgiving dinner together. Of course Jane would take the lead since she did all of the cooking in our household.
Jane’s routine on Thanksgiving Day was to run the Atlanta Track Club Marathon. This particular year Jane had initially signed up to run the half marathon. That would leave plenty of time for her to get home and cook.
The day before the race when we went to pick up her running packet, Jane got caught up in the festivities of the running club and the thousands of other runners. Jane decided on the spot she would run the full marathon instead of the half. I saw how excited she was so I encouraged her to do so.
Bright and early on Thanksgiving morning, I drove Jane to the staring line at about 5:30 a.m. We had our plan for where I would meet her along the route to encourage her and then meet her at the finish line. When I got back home my family was still asleep. The quiet time allowed me to think about the day.
I realized that there was no way Jane would be home in time to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Moreover, she would be exhausted when she got home. I knew that a major dinner had to be cooked and I was going to have to cook it.
I rolled up my sleeves hauled the turkey out of the refrigerator and wrestled it into the pan. The bird and I both almost ended up on the floor. I communed with my former self, reached back into past life experiences to remember skills I had not used in decades, and came out of the closet as the once and future cook I can be.
I spent the next few hours preparing a full Thanksgiving Day meal. It was time for me to pick up Jane. As expected, she was exhausted. Cooking Thanksgiving dinner was the last thing on her mind so I did not mention it to her. When we arrived home she was stunned to learn that I had prepared the entire meal myself. In fact, my entire family was surprised that I could cook! The meal was delicious, if I do say so myself, and everyone enjoyed it.
My secret was out – and Jane gladly relinquished the responsibility of doing all the cooking in the household.
David Aaron Moore is the editor of Georgia Voice.
Thanksgiving Recollections: Grandma was messin’ with my head
Growing up in a modest early 20th century house in my birthplace of Charlotte, N.C., especially on the west side, meant one thing for sure — we weren’t the richest folks in town.
Despite the fact we didn’t always have the money to get every toy I saw or the hottest new car on the market — we did have a large extended family that enjoyed spending time together.
In the early years when my sisters and I were still kids, the family would visit my grandparents in Rutherfordton, N.C., (the natives just skip right over those three syllables in the middle and call it “Ruv-ton”) for the annual Thanksgiving dinner.
My grandparents lived in a big old farm house that seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. I can still recall riding up a dirt road from a state road to get to their long driveway. The minute the wheels of my dad’s Ford Falcon station wagon touched the drive a hoard of mixed-breed mutts would charge down to meet us, barking happily as if to announce to my grandparents that visitors had arrived.
The same scene would play itself out again multiple times as aunts and uncles would arrive with cousins and other family members.
By the time a crew of 25 or so had gathered, it was time to eat. My grandmother — who was very much the portrait of an elderly woman from the American ’30s (sturdy shoes, a house dress, small round frame glasses, gray hair in a bun) — emerged from the kitchen. Her face was wet with sweat from cooking over the hot stove and the resulting steam had caused multiple wisps of gray hair to loosen themselves from the otherwise tightly bobby-pinned bun.
“Are you folks ready for some Thanksgiving Dinner?” She would ask in her warm, grandmotherly voice.
Every year she would prepare the same thing: a ham, a turkey, endless selections of beans: peas, green beans, pinto beans and lima beans (beans were not a favorite of mine at this point in time — especially limas and green peas), stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce (jellied and shaped like a can), macaroni and cheese and baskets and baskets of dinner rolls.
The adults would serve themselves and all gather at the large formal table in the dining room, while the children were served by my grandmother personally at smaller tables she had sat up in the den.
For the years I can recall, and before she became too frail for big family gatherings, this was the standard procedure.
I would always end up at the same seat at the same little table. And it was always the table with the strange little drawer. So perfect for putting things in. So odd that I was always so carefully guided to that place.
“You sit here,” she would say, pointing to the place I knew she would. Then she would place my two sisters and a cousin at the three other available seats around the small, square table.
A few minutes later she would re-emerge from the kitchen, plates loaded up with all of the aforementioned items and invariably a heaping helping of limas or green peas. She always looked me directly in the eye and smiled whimsically as she placed the plate in front of me. “Be sure you eat all of that young man. You’re too skinny!”
I’m not exactly sure when it all began, but at some point a few years prior — in an effort to escape the foul tasting limas or green peas — I had scooped the offending offering into the tiny drawer in front of me.
Somewhere along the way I think it became a game for my grandmother. I can only imagine the first time it happened she was horrified to find a drawer of cast off lima beans.
Initially, she was probably unsure as to whom the culprit actually was — but after the second year, I’m sure it became obvious.
Why would she place me at the same seat each year? The beans were always gone from the previous visit. There were never any moldy or petrified bipodal seeds to be found in the empty drawer. Clearly, someone must have cleaned them out.
That someone could only have been her.
I envisioned in my head the conversation she and my grandfather might have had the night before.
“You know Bill and Dot will be down tomorrow with the kids?” She’d ask. “Yes. And a bunch of other screaming monsters,” my grandfather would moan. “We’re getting a might too old for this, don’t you think?” “Don’t be silly,” she’d chuckle. “Besides, I always get a bit of a laugh out of making that jumpy little boy of theirs put his lima beans in the drawer again.”
Did she know? How could she not? Was she playing with me?
Regrettably, I never found out the answer to the question. A few years later my grandfather died and shortly after that grandmother had a stroke — which landed her in a care facility. We went to visit her a few times, but she never really did seem to recognize any of the grandchildren.
For the most part — I recall her as a quiet and serious, well-mannered woman. It’s difficult for me to picture her playing head games for a chuckle.
But it makes me laugh to think she probably had the same twisted sense of humor I do today. Every year around this time I can’t help but remember those days so long ago — and my grandmother: a little old woman who was messin’ with my head on Thanksgiving Day.