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Counting Her Blessings

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When I ask Vieira what she'd do if the time ever came when she wasn't a television journalist, she answers without hesitation, "I'd be a pediatric clown in the children's ward of a hospital." She did a segment about the profession on Today this year. "First, I observed the clowns in a hospital, and I thought, These kids are so sick, how do they do this? And one of the clowns said, ‘When you put on the makeup, you're the clown doctor.'" For the segment, Meredith, in clown makeup and costume, became Dr. Ditsie (a childhood nickname). "I forgot I was talking to sick children, and I had the best time. It felt so good. I made a difference and I got something out of it."

What Vieira brings to the table — the one in her gracious suburban home near the Hudson River that's shared by kids and husband, dog Jasper, and two cats, Felipe and Sweet Pea — are qualities that were well and wisely loved into being around her parents' table in East Providence, RI. Her mother, a homemaker, and her father, a doctor, were both first-generation Portuguese Americans. Vieira's three brothers — 10 years, 5 years, and 14 months older than she — probably helped determine her description of herself as "more of a tomboy than the princessy girl."

The hardest thing about the upcoming holidays, she says, is not having her parents at the table to share them. Her dad died in 1987, at 82, and her mom in 2004, at 90. Vieira lights up talking about them. "I was raised Catholic, but my mom was a real feminist who didn't like the male-dominated hierarchy of the church," Vieira says proudly. "She was tough about it. She went to church and was a believer, but she didn't like the trappings."

Dinnertime conversation at the Vieira home was long and lively, about politics and her physician father's work. "My favorite thing was when my father was asked to testify in court on a murder case. ‘If you came across a body like that, what would you think was the cause of death?' he'd ask me."

Although Vieira acknowledges that the holidays are stressful ("I'm always trying to outdo myself"), you feel her sincerity when she talks about how she considers Thanksgiving special. "There's a purity to it," she says. "It's only about gathering." That word, "gathering," comes up again when she talks about the Quaker girls' school she attended from the age of 2. (She's still friends with the same gang, and they get together once a year.) "Philosophically, I loved that idea of gathering together in silence, and then standing up and expressing your thoughts."

Vieira and her family spend the holiday with Richard's side of the family one year, hers the next. "We don't say any special grace; we talk about what we're thankful for," she says. Richard is Jewish, "though he doesn't follow any religion per se." He and the kids light the menorah at Hanukkah, and say the Hebrew candle-lighting blessings together. "I believe in God," says Meredith, "but I have spirituality, not a religion."

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