If you grew up in the South like I did, then you know that Thanksgiving is a holiday that competes only with Christmas for sheer popularity and crowds of family members. In fact, it seems like each Thanksgiving scads of new cousins, aunts, and uncles would show up, and I'd have to struggle to remember the name of every family member through tryptophan-induced lethargy. Occasionally you'd have a wacky aunt tell a funny story, or you and your cousin would sneak off outside and go play in the creek, but for the most part it was pretty much all about eating. Then the men would gather in front of the television to watch some football game, and the women would go to the other room to talk about the men. At least, I assume that's what they talked about.
For years this spectacle repeated itself, and I would yearn for someone to break up the monotony and bring the family together in the heartwarming way that you only see in the movies. Who better to do it than Del Griffith from Planes, Trains and Automobiles? This was a guy who wouldn't let life get him down, no matter what happened. He always had a cheery smile, was quick with a joke, and heck ... he could even lead a bus full of strangers in singing the theme from the Flintstones. Plus, if you were ever in a pinch, he could put his hypnotic salesman powers to work and sell curtain rings to practically anyone for dough. That's a skill that would definitely come in handy at Thanksgiving dinner when Aunt Mildred comes over to try and make you eat some of her Jell-o salad.
But the best part comes at the end of the day when everyone's had their fill of turkey and stuffing, the dessert plates have all been cleared away, and the fire is burning low. You can sidle over to old Uncle Del and have a real heart to heart with him. Why? Because while he's a funnyman on the outside who wears a contant cheerful mask, underneath this is a guy who has had a rough time on the sea of life. You see, his wife Marie passed away eight years prior, and he's been carrying a torch for her ever since. However, he doesn't mope around and drag himself through life. No, he fairly propels himself through it. Quite frankly, that's not only the kind of guy that I'd like to have Thanksgiving dinner with, but it's also the kind of guy I wouldn't mind knowing throughout my life.
Now you can't mention Del's charm without mentioning the package it was delivered in. Namely, the incredibly talented John Candy. John was the kind of guy who could light up a dull moment on-screen no matter what was going on around him. Sure, he was in some less than stellar movies, but Planes, Trains and Automobiles just takes the cake (er, pumpkin pie) as far as I'm concerned in the holiday comedy department. Curse you, John Hughes, for making me think that "Those aren't two pillows!" is still a funny thing to shout out at seemingly opportune moments. Steve Martin and John Candy were both in their comedic stride when they made this film, but it's Del's moment of levity at the end of the film that manages to choke you up. It's hard not to get choked up when you remember that John Candy is no longer with us. Thankfully, this movie will live on.
So there you have it, Thanksgiving dinner with Del Griffith. Laughter, love, and levity, all rolled up in one big package. But, don't ask him to drive your car.