Thanksgiving is an American holiday. Thanksgiving celebrates the beginning of life in a new land. The seeds of friendship between two different cultures. The the pilgrims and the indians. The journey of the Mayflower. The need for one another. The helping hands of family and friends. The feast of giving thanks for where we have come from and for what we have.
Thanksgiving is the dining room table. Family gathered. The blessing. The smell of turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and the sound of football in the background. My brother Marty eating the heads off the turkey cookies.
Celebrating Thanksgiving abroad is not the same.
The first Thanksgiving I spent in France we lived in Paris. A group of Americans that I knew from working at the American Church in Paris had a dinner party. Everyone was in charge of bringing something for dinner. We knew it was going to be hard to find the necessary ingredients. I was in charge of the pumpkin pies. I had never made pumpkin pie. Canned pumpkin did not exist in France. I went to the market to buy a pumpkin. When I saw the pumpkin it seemed to say, "Carve me, I am Halloween."
I took that heavy monster home. Cut it up, seeded it, simmered it, added fresh cream, brown sugar (that was not like brown sugar back home), the last of my maple syrup that I had brought back in my suitcase, brown eggs, a tad of cognac and spices. Then I whipped it until my hand nearly fell off, and baked it.
It was delicious.
French Husband was confused, "Why do zee Americans eat salt and sugar at zee same time?"
Instead of answering him I groaned, "Eat it."
Then he said, "I prefer Chocolate."
The guests said my pies were delicious. I beamed, "I made it from a real pumpkin!"
French Husband leaned towards me and whispered, "Does fake Pump KEEN exist?"
The following year at Thanksgiving, I was three weeks shy of delivering Chelsea.
I am five foot three. I gained over 50 pounds when I was pregnant. I looked like I had swallowed the turkey whole.
Two weeks before Thanksgiving, I went to the butcher to order a "Dinde (turkey in French)." Though we were vegetarians I decided I was going to prepare a turkey that Thanksgiving. When the butcher asked me in French what size I wanted I froze. I did not have the right French words in my pocket to answer him. Flustered (like what type of person goes to order a turkey at a French butcher and doesn't have the right vocabulary in their repertoire?) I pointed to my big belly and said, "Gros comme ca (Fat like this)! Though I thought I said, "Big like this."
The butcher laughed then chopped his big knife into the cutting board. I gulped.
Two weeks later I went back to pick up the turkey. It was larger than a child. The butcher was proud, overly jolly as he carried the turkey around the counter because it was too large to hand it over to me.
The basket I brought was far too small to carry the turkey back home. The people in line at the butcher's began to laugh when they saw it. There I stood big as a cow, holding the cold- plucked-turkey-child on my pregnant belly. My hormones got the best of me as I cried in English, "I am a vegetarian who just wanted a normal Thanksgiving."
Nobody understood me.
Slowly, I carried the turkey home. The people on the street moved away as I walked by. My face was beet red, I huffed and puffed and swore I was going into labor. I climbed the four flights of stairs wishing for an elevator. I dragged the turkey-child into the kitchen. Then sat next to the turkey down on the floor.
An hour or so later French Husband came home he spotted me with the turkey fanning myself with a recipe I had copied from the American bookstore.
French Husband gasped, "What are you doing? What is it?"
"But we don't eat turkey."
"What is it doing here?"
"Thanksgiving. We eat turkey on Thanksgiving."
"No. But in America we do."
"Oh. Do you miss America?"
"I miss home," then I hugged the turkey child.
"Are we going to eat it?"
"No. But I am going to cook it and you are going to help me, and our friends are going to eat it."
"How many friends do we have?"
"Not enough. But what we don't eat they can take home."
"In France we do not give food to take home."
"Well, we are going to break that habit."
Each year Thanksgiving has been an adventure in a new land. Happy and very Thankful. I don't want to tell you all my Thanksgiving stories today because I need to save them for the years to come.
Do you have a Thanksgiving Memory you would like to share?