Why Joe Biden’s Thanksgivings Will Never Be The Same (Vanity Fair)

Why Joe Biden’s Thanksgivings Will Never Be The Same


Biden, his grandson Hunter, his son Beau, and Jill, at the Naval Observatory residence, in Washington, D.C., October 2011.

Official White House photo by David Lienemann.

The Biden tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on Nantucket started in
1975. By 2014, the year after Beau’s brain-cancer diagnosis, the
gathering had grown to include our three children—Beau, Hunter, and
Ashley—their spouses, and our five grandchildren.

Beau kept to himself our first day in Nantucket. His Secret Service
detail had become really good at walling him away. He was easily
fatigued and increasingly shy about interacting with people. He was
losing feeling in his right hand, and it wasn’t strong enough for a good
firm handshake, and he had been wrestling with a condition called
aphasia. Radiation and chemotherapy had done some damage to the part of
his brain that controlled the ability to name things. He had been going
from his home in Wilmington to Philadelphia most days for an hour of
physical therapy and occupational therapy and then an hour of speech
therapy, all above and beyond his regular chemo treatments.

It was slow going, but he never showed frustration. Nobody in the
family, or among his friends, or among his staff at the attorney
general’s office, saw him angry or down. It just took a little patience,
and a few extra words when he couldn’t recall “mayor”: “You know,
that guy who runs the city.” Or “dinner roll”: “Pass the, you know,
the brown thing you put the butter on.”

We got up Thanksgiving morning and did our annual Turkey Trot—a
10-mile run (for anybody who felt up to it) to the other side of the
island. I rode the route on a bike with some of the grandchildren. We
spent part of the day tossing a football around the beach. I showed
young Hunter, Beau’s son, the bluffs where his father and his uncle used
to jump off and catch passes when they were about his age. Beau and
Hallie and their kids made sure to get some nice pictures of the four of
them together on the beach. And for our annual family photo we went over
to the little saltbox house above the dunes at ‘Sconset Beach that we
called “Forever Wild,” after a carved wooden sign on its porch bearing
that inscription. Jill and I first saw the house in 1975, when it was
for sale. The asking price then had been too rich for a senator’s

Listen To An Excerpt from Promise Me, Dad Below

This year, the lot was ringed with yellow police tape. The house was
gone, a victim of rising ocean tides that had been washing away three or
four feet of the ‘Sconset Bluff every year for the past 20. Bad storm
years might take out 10 times that in certain places. “Forever Wild”
had finally run out of safe ground, and run out of time; it had been
swept out into the Atlantic. The only thing left behind was a piece of
the foundation.

We went back to town the day after Thanksgiving, making sure to be at
the right spot around dusk, to watch the annual lighting of the
Nantucket Christmas tree. Beau had proposed to Hallie at the tree
lighting in 2001, and they were married at St. Mary’s church, in the
heart of downtown Nantucket, the next year. Hallie always suspected it
was Beau’s way of locking them into Biden Family Thanksgivings for all
time. And it worked. They were celebrating their 12th anniversary at the
end of the week, and Hallie had never missed a Thanksgiving. Even the
year Beau was stationed in Iraq, she insisted we all keep the tradition
and go to Nantucket.

While we did our family stroll, I found myself mulling an issue that was
beginning to weigh on me. I was getting a lot of questions, from a lot
of different quarters, about running for president in 2016. Even
President Obama had surprised me by asking directly about my plans at
one of our regular lunches a few weeks earlier.

At some point on the streets of Nantucket that day, I brought up the
question of 2016 with my two sons. I had a feeling that they didn’t want
me to make the run, and I said as much. Beau just looked at me. “We’ve
got to talk, Dad,” he said. So when we got back to the house that
evening the three of us sat down in the kitchen and we talked.

I knew there were plenty of good reasons not to run, and uncertainty
about Beau’s health was at the top. And I really suspected that my sons,
whose judgment I had come to value and rely on, did not want me to put
the family through the ordeal of a presidential campaign just now.
“Dad, you’ve got it all wrong,” Beau said. “You’ve got to run. I want
you to run.” Hunter agreed: “We want you to run.” The three of us
talked for an hour. They wanted to know what I would do to get ready and
when the right time to announce would be. Hunt kept telling me that of
all the potential candidates I was the best prepared and best able to
lead the country. But it was the conviction and intensity in Beau’s
voice that caught me off guard. At one point he said it was my
obligation to run, my duty. “Duty” was a word Beau Biden did not use

When we boarded Air Force Two for the trip home that Sunday, everybody
seemed happy. The five days had been a success in all ways. It was a
family tradition to make our Christmas lists over Thanksgiving, and Jill
had the completed lists stowed away for safekeeping. She and I arrived
back at the Naval Observatory that afternoon and went up the sweeping
central staircase to the second floor to settle into the casual living
quarters we used when it was just the two of us.

I sat down on our couch, in the one place in the house that felt as
though it truly belonged to us, to relax and reflect. But there was an
image I could not get out of my head. I kept seeing the little “Forever
Wild” house, undermined by the powerful indifference of nature and the
inevitability of time, no longer able to hold its ground; I could almost
hear the sharp crack as its moorings failed, could envision the tide
washing in and out, pulling at it relentlessly and remorselessly until
it was adrift on the water, then swallowed up by the sea. No
Thanksgiving would ever be quite the same. I pulled out my diary and
started to write. I did have one big item for my own Christmas list that
year, but I was keeping it to myself:

NavObs, November 30, 2014, 7:30 p.m.

Just home from Nantucket. I pray we have another year together in
2015. Beau. Beau. Beau. Beau.

Adapted from Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, by Joe Biden, to be published this month by Flatiron Books; © 2017 by the


via Vanity Fair http://bit.ly/2xvuIXg

October 25, 2017 at 09:06AM