Papa Hemingway’s writing means more to me now that I am old than when I was a boy and first read his last work of fiction. The short novel begins by describing what the main character, Santiago, did not have: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty four days now without taking a fish.”
Many of us spent this Thanksgiving alone. Others shared a meal with a few close friends or family members. But nearly all will not have the kind of Thanksgiving to which we are accustomed. No large gathering of loved ones. No serving at the buffet inside a senior care facility or homeless shelter. No cradling a newborn grandchild, or kissing an ailing parent goodbye.
Many things must wait for more than eighty four days–or worse, will be gone forever like the ravaged remains of Santiago’s “great fish that was now just garbage going out with the tide.” The shark attack on the fish left nothing of value except the head. In gratitude for taking care of his skiff, Santiago let Pedrico have it to use as bait.
Re-reading The Old Man and the Sea caused me to recall this: A few years ago, a retired schoolteacher gave shares of Apple stock to a local school. As she was of modest means, the gift came as a surprise. She explained that she bought the stock in the late 1980s because she was impressed that Apple had donated computers to public schools and now she wanted her increasingly valuable investment to do the same: benefit needy students.
Later, when she passed away, her son conveyed a second surprise: His mother had left a portion of her estate–which consisted of a modest home–to a local youth and family services organization. Her son explained that the bequest was in appreciation for all that was done for the family in their time of need. Decades before, when his father died unexpectedly, the organization provided grief counseling, meals, after school care, and helped his mother obtain her teaching credential, find, and keep a teaching position in the area.