Recently, at a dinner in Manhattan, our friend Robert asked us what our favorite Thanksgiving memories were. My husband, Tom, was quick to reply, all choked up, that it was his favorite holiday, a time in his youth when his parents would welcome strangers at their family table. People who had no one or visitors who couldn’t be home in time for dinner with their own family.
A few other dinner guests shared their memories and insights into that quintessentially American holiday.
I, on the other hand, struggled to come up with anything.
Born and raised in France, where we had no pilgrims, no harvest festivals or native Americans, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I have no fun or embarrassing childhood memories to share (not about that holiday at least).
I only started celebrating Thanksgiving in my late 20’s, after meeting Tom in Paris, where turkey was available, but where we had few American friends and no American family to celebrate Thanksgiving with.
We then moved to Asia, where we had more American friends (and still no American family) but where turkey was scarce. In South Korea, you had to order your turkey months ahead through specialty stores, like the one on the US army base in Seoul. In Hong Kong, American friends and turkeys were plenty, so celebrate Thanksgiving we did (still no American family though).
One of my best memories is from Thanksgiving 2016, when both our adult kids came to Saudi Arabia (where we lived) to celebrate the holiday with us, from Amsterdam and Boston. It was special. Alexandra, my step-daughter, went shopping (with her dad and brother’s help) and spent the whole day in the kitchen, preparing everything from scratch. Turkey with home-made stuffing and cranberry sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans in pesto sauce and pecan pie. The boys helped while I lounged on the sofa (what else does a girl need?)
The food was scrumptious, Alexandra is a great cook, but what was special was having both Alexandra and Max with us, for a holiday that means so much to their dad. Sharing the delicious meal and memories, counting our blessings. That’s when I really fully grasped the meaning of Thanksgiving.
We moved to the US in 2017, so I am more Thanksgiving-savvy now than ever. We have a standing invitation in Philadelphia, where Tom’s closest relatives live. For the third year now, we drive down to spend a wonderful day with aunt Doris (the kind of aunt anyone should have), cousins Sandy, Holly and Michael and their kids, grandkids and in-laws.
But this year is special. Not only do we have turkey and American family, we also celebrated Thanksgiving with dear friends in New York.
So, although I am a late bloomer, I have embraced this holiday for what it means to me today: being grateful, counting my blessings and sharing with loved ones, family and friends. And as we sit down to share a meal, let’s think of all those who can’t celebrate, are alone or less fortunate than we are. Let’s be kind to ourselves and to others, including strangers, like Jean and Jim Fallows of Redlands, CA, Tom’s parents, were to their own community.