One of the funniest, and saddest, family scenes is from a movie I adore, Avalon, which premiered in 1990.
Avalon opens with Sam Krichinsky, a Polish-Jewish immigrant, recalling the sights and sounds as he first walked on American soil, on what seems to be the Fourth of July. To Sam it was as if all the lights of the city had turned on for him alone, with sounds of firecrackers exclaiming his presence, the future before him in the promised land. Can you imagine such a welcome?
I came to America in 1914 – by way of Philadelphia. That’s where I got off the boat. And then I came to Baltimore. It was the most beautiful place you ever seen in your life. There were lights everywhere! What lights they had! It was a celebration of lights! I thought they were for me, Sam, who was in America. Sam was in America! I didn’t know what holiday it was, but there were lights. And I walked under them. The sky exploded, people cheered, there were fireworks! What a welcome it was, what a welcome! Sam Krichinsky, Opening of Avalon
We follow the Krichinsky family through their years in Avalon, with Sam and his older brother Gabriel, Sam’s son Jules, the cousins, wives who are not of their family heritage, the younger generation changing their surnames to sound more “American“.
Who said names were supposed to be easy to say? What are you, a candy bar? Sam upon hearing son Jules’ choice of names.
We watch the family change and grow, become educated, pay for and sponsor other family members on their journey to the USA, and as the family prospers, changes come, including members of the family moving from Avalon to the suburbs, where the television replaces conversation around the table and relatives no longer live together.
It is the scene of carving the turkey before Gabriel and his wife arrive that is one of the more poignant ones in the movie. The long chain of tables from one room to the next so that everyone can sit. The children’s table. The chatter and comments – and the one relative who is always late for family meals. I can identify with this. Can you?
In this scene, for the first time, in a new home in the suburbs, the turkey is carved before Gabriel arrives. Gabriel is furious and vows to never come for Thanksgiving again. Of course, it is more than the turkey that has him so angry; it is the changes in his life, his culture, his family – and all that progress can bring, both the good and the bad.
I’m sure many of us have had, or still do have, a Gabriel in their family. Do you? Have you seen this movie?