- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

Forget a few extra folding chairs. Washington socialite Ruth Noble “Baba” Groom had to rent a heated tent for Thanksgiving dinner.

That’s because she invited her ex-husband, author Winston Groom (“Forrest Gump”), his wife and child, the five children of her late second husband, assorted friends, relatives and her current beau, Washington lawyer Robin Johnson.

“It’s either going to be great, or terrible,” Mrs. Groom said, going over the guest list of 30 who are expected to sit down to a turkey meal today at her Mineral Spring Farm in Claiborne, Md.

Certainly “yours, mine and ours” has become a staple of Thanksgiving, with so many divorced spouses and children from previous unions.

“Everybody embraces Thanksgiving,” Mrs. Groom said, clearly hoping no dinner rolls will be tossed by ticked-off ex-lovers.

Old traditions do give way to modern life as families resolve to take the pressure off the holiday. That means dining at private clubs or restaurants, rounding up “strays” and generally eschewing the Norman Rockwell version of the fall feast.

Esther Coopersmith, former U.S. representative to the United Nations, throws open her S Street house on Thanksgiving to welcome new ambassadors and foreign dignitaries to her annual Turkey Day feast. The tradition started 10 years ago.

“I want them to share an American celebration,” she said, reviewing the guest list, which will include the envoys from Mexico, Canada, Tunisia, Cyprus, Ecuador, Brazil and Kuwait, plus their children and Mrs. Coopersmith’s children and grandchildren.

The day after Thanksgiving, she hosts a traditional afternoon party for Washington A-listers, friends and relatives. “It’s pretty noisy, but we have lots of delicious pastries,” she said.

Mrs. Coopersmith has been hosting her holiday dinners for years and says on the first occasion, former Russian Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin told his hostess that he “had lived in America for 24 years and never had a Thanksgiving dinner.”

Then there was the year the Queen of Thailand showed up for turkey and gravy.

“This is really the only true American holiday we have,” Mrs. Coopersmith said, adding that the turkey dinner provides “an education” for foreign diplomats in Washington who otherwise would be sitting alone in their embassies.

And even in Washington, no one really wants to talk politics. The annual day-before-Thanksgiving lunch that Virginia Gov. Mark Warner hosts at the Palm is more about male camaraderie among the 150 or so attendees who take over the restaurant.

“It used to be all guys,” said Alexandria lawyer Mark Allen, who has been attending the lunch for almost 10 years. “Now they have a few women. It started off after Mark and a few friends would play basketball at the YMCA then go to the Palm for lunch. Now it’s become a charity event. It’s called ‘The Pilgrim’s Luncheon’ and the money goes to SOME [So Others Might Eat]. You’re expected to bring your checkbook.”

Lawyers, doctors, political types, builders and high-tech tycoons are on the list. The food is manly — giant steaks — and the lunch includes an open bar. “Martinis seem to be the drink of the day,” Mr. Allen said.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, and his wife, Charlene, open their McLean home to stragglers and staffers. Anyone who does not have a place to go is invited, and has been for the past 20 years.

But some people prefer to slip away on Thanksgiving. Former Washingtonian magazine Editor at Large Chuck Conconi spends the holiday with his wife, Janelle Jones, the same way every year.

“We drive over to the Eastern Shore and have lunch at Harrison’s on Tilghman Island. We eat fried oysters and the waitresses all call you ‘honey’ and it’s just wonderful.”

No children. No family. No pesky relatives kvetching about not enough white meat.

“Every year we get invitations for Thanksgiving, and every year we turn them down,” he said with a laugh.

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