Carrying on for `Geep'

Tradition: Gerald Fisher died Sept. 11 at the Pentagon, but his widow wanted the Thanksgiving potluck he started more than 20 years ago to continue.

November 22, 2001|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

POTOMAC - They parked last night on Democracy Lane and came to dinner on the eve of Thanksgiving the way they always had. If you drove by and saw all the cars, you wouldn't necessarily have known anything was different this year.

The people walking up the brick path were his closest family and friends, his co-workers and neighbors, so they knew that Gerald "Geep" Fisher had been in the Pentagon on Sept. 11. He was there with two others from his human resources consulting firm to brief a general before a 9:15 a.m. meeting. Friends who know where the general's office was can't help wondering if Geep saw the hijacked airliner coming in his final moments.

He was supposed to meet some of them at L'Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls, Va., that night, to celebrate his wife's birthday. It was Kris who told them two months later that the Thanksgiving potluck Geep had started 20-some years ago was still on. "It was a very important event in our household," she said. "It was a tradition I felt absolutely necessary to do this year, and one I hope to continue."

So they came dressed as they always had, for a cocktail party. Some from Booz Allen & Hamilton Inc., where Geep worked for 14 years, wore suits and ties. Friends from "the early years," when Geep was "a '60s hippie radical," dressed more casually. Friends such as Joani Graves, who knew him through a sports club, The Ski Club of Washington, D.C., always dressed up, because it was an opportunity to see each other in something other than snow gear and tennis shorts.

Geep, 57, had collected friends from many walks of life. He and a buddy sold Jewish deli products door-to-door when he was in college, calling themselves Marx and Hegel, Lox and Bagel. He earned several degrees, including a doctorate in social work from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a college professor in Texas and Wisconsin. He loved sports. And every facet of his life brought him friends.

"Relationships meant a lot to him," said Murray Mack. "He bonded very easily with people."

The friends who came to the first potlucks say the tradition began in the late 1970s, though no one can remember what year. Geep was "single" then, between marriages, a divorced father of two living in a one-bedroom apartment in Northern Virginia. Murray said the idea was to have a dinner for the "Thanksgiving orphans."

Said friend Gary Rubens: "It was a nice gesture. A lot of people in the Washington area, especially singles, have relatives out of town."

Geep fixed the turkey, dressing and gravy, while they brought side dishes, appetizers and desserts. As the years went by and the gathering grew, he cooked more turkeys. "Once Geep acquired you as a friend, you were his friend for life," Murray said. "We used to say that Geep's acquaintances were only outnumbered by his best friends."

They walked through the foyer last night, as they had in years past, and when they looked around and saw how lovely the house looked, they thought of Kris, not Geep. Many of them knew Geep in his bachelor days and knew he worked long hours, watched tennis and football on television on his time off, and didn't care about home furnishings. Over the years they came to know Kris, an interior designer.

When he married her, he moved from a small apartment into a townhouse, but that was still not enough room for the 50, then 70, and finally 90 people who came for Thanksgiving each year.

Other things changed over the years, too. The 30-somethings became 50-somethings. The singles married. Many changed jobs, had children, moved to bigger houses.

When Geep and Kris moved to Democracy Lane, they finally had enough room to comfortably accommodate everyone. In 17 years of marriage, the party became more refined; it took on more of Kris' style. Once, she suggested they have it catered. Geep was roasting three turkeys by then and they were taking time off to get the house ready.

Geep said no. People expected to bring something, he told her, and besides, sharing things and trying new food was half the fun. So the potluck remained a potluck.

Last night, Geep's friends brought their favorite dishes. Joani Graves brought string beans. Murray Mack baked pumpkin bread. Gary Rubens roasted a turkey. They reminisced about how Geep loved to cook. They recalled his Seder dinners, too.

For Thanksgiving, he'd make a Grand Marnier dressing from a Silver Palate Cookbook recipe. When the ski club went to Pennsylvania for the weekend, or when couples got together on Labor Day or the Fourth of July, if there were two meals to cook, Geep and Kris would make one, Gary and Linda Rubens would make the other. "My meals had three ingredients," Gary said. "Geep's had 33."

They remembered him in the kitchen, carving enormous 30-pound turkeys. They recalled him telling jokes. He was "the life of the party" and "the straw that stirred the drink," so they talked about how much he will be missed.

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