First Person: On the eve of Thanksgiving, so shines a good deed

Sometimes this year’s overwhelming darkness provides a kind of canvas onto which acts of true goodness can be spotlit.

Photo: ButtercuP Diner/Facebook

It was inevitable that all the turkeys would be taken. After all, it was only three days until Thanksgiving and we had just canceled our trip to Los Angeles. It had been planned so carefully — strict quarantining, insistence on outdoor activities and indoor ventilation, endless masks. But with the current spike in cases, our avoidable travel and mixing of two households began to feel selfish. Irresponsible. And so we sadly pulled the plug, sticking my sister and brother-in-law with a 12-pound turkey, and our family of three with none.

“I can’t believe I’m asking this, but…where could I find turkeys? Or stuffing?” I asked the staffer at Trader Joe’s in Berkeley. We had scored one of Pomella’s generous farm produce boxes, but no bird, and prepared Thanksgiving meals were sold out all over the East Bay.

The staffer, looking miserable, gazed up at me from her awkward shelf-restocking position near the floor, and silently shook her head. It was a look, I thought, of exhaustion and exasperation — she had probably answered that question 70 times today already.

“Oh well,” I said, “It was worth a shot. Our original plans were canceled.” She shook her head some more, I thanked her and lined up at the check-out area grateful, at least, for a handful of cheeses and bottle of spiced cider.


Then a gentle voice from behind said, “Were you the person who just asked me about turkey?” It was the staffer, having crossed the store to find me.

She told me to wait, and she went through a staff-only door and returned with her own Thanksgiving dinner, a Trader Joe’s frozen meal composed of turkey and stuffing, with gravy and cranberry sauce on the side. She had secured one for herself before the rush; there were none left available in the store. Kindly, she described how the meal might please my family, and give us a little taste of Thanksgiving. She had other options, she said, and insisted I take it. The hard look she had given my question, I realized then, was one of conflict, as she had a turkey dinner saved and I had none.

We’re all tired. Of masks, and weighing risks, and loneliness and loss. But sometimes this year’s overwhelming darkness provides a kind of canvas onto which acts of true goodness can be spotlit.

I won’t name the employee, I don’t want to shine an unwanted light, but this week I’m grateful to her, and to every local worker doing their best not just to keep their jobs or to make a sale, but to connect with us in the worst and weirdest of times. There are some wonderful people behind those masks. Thanks for giving us Thanksgiving.

Joanna Della Penna , a regular contributor to Berkeleyside Nosh, has written about food, people and the arts in the Bay Area since moving here from the East Coast in 2001, and was Gayot’s Northern California regional restaurant editor for 10 years. She lives in Emeryville with her husband and young son.