Long ago, and far away, in the time before the internet was ubiquitous, we arrived in America. Having worked for an American even further back in the annals of time, I knew a little about Thanksgiving. And having had American friends in various places around the world, I learnt a bit more.
I have always been chary of taking on the customs of my host country, feeling sometimes as if I am taking liberties with another’s culture. It’s rather like dressing in a sari when one is not Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi, it seems rather forced and somehow not quite right. Not to mention the fact that most women not born to wear a sari are wholly incapable of wearing one with the grace of a native wearer. I say the same of a non-Scotsman wearing the kilt. It just doesn’t sit quite right.
So that first Thanksgiving I made a pact with both myself and my family. I would not be cooking a turkey twice in one month. That did not mean I did not value the thought behind Thanksgiving but it was not my holiday, rather like Diwali or Chinese New Year were not my holidays, though I would and did respect them, and could enjoy them.
That first Thanksgiving for my family was spent with American friends, who had graciously invited us to spend their special holiday with them. Not knowing quite what to expect, apart from turkey and football, I was rather taken aback to see yams and marshmallows. It was a wonderful introduction to a long-held American tradition – even if, like many traditions around the world, its history has been somewhat convoluted over the years.
I was staggered at the frenzy of shopping, the mountains of food, the logistics of collecting various offspring and parents from airports, the general air of “this will be fun come what may!” And it was. Particularly for me in my non-cooking capacity.
Other Thanksgivings have been spent walking the Palo Duro trails, the second largest canyons in the country and which happen to be in the Texas Panhandle. Yet another Thanksgiving holiday was spent wandering the caverns at Carlsbad. That was memorable for a number of reasons. Firstly we arrived at our motel, after a ten-hour drive, to find only yams and gravy left from the promised Thanksgiving feast at the local restaurant. Then seeing the caverns the following day blew away all thoughts of ever visiting another cave – they were truly amazing. Another year my daughter and I decided to run away to the beach, my husband having taken the opportunity of four days off to watch our son play rugby at his English boarding school. Galveston was our nearest option. We ended up eating a paltry Thanksgiving meal at Dennys, again supplies were running out. An hour later we were at the burger joint with the golden arches, it being the only other option available. We then watched soppy movies snuggled on the motel bed, with the dog, all three of us chowing down on burgers and chips – sorry, fries!
But now we are American. True blue, sworn in, paid up American. And yet, I still find Thanksgiving a strange holiday to celebrate. As if I’m not quite legitimate. We will though celebrate it with other British friends who like us are now American citizens. Kay, who has been a dear pal through many countries and various family dramas, is a better woman than I. She has cooked Thanksgiving turkey and fixin’s ever since their arrival on these shores, the year before us. We will arrive on their doorstep with wine, trifle and pumpkin cheesecake and have a wonderful time, all very different to those first settlers who celebrated with deer, corn and shellfish. Not a turkey, or yam, or marshmallow in sight. But like most traditional holidays, anywhere in the world, its really not about what we eat, but about who we spend it with.
And so I say Happy Thanksgiving y’all….. and I’m still not cooking a turkey.