Saturday, November 21, 2015

Growing Up Without Thanksgiving

After reading Mom's piece in the paper aloud, Number Seven approves: "You're getting better, Mom!"

Growing up without Thanksgiving

If a guest stops by at our house between campus and Downtown on Thanksgiving Day, a regular American scene will be experienced: a golden baked turkey, homemade cranberry nut bread, bubbly-hot mashed potatoes, stuffing, pies, the works. To complete the scene, a hungry and smiling family around the festive, rich table, ready to devour the food that looks familiar and comforting.

Lingering a little longer, perhaps after a couple of glasses of a good Malbec, the visitor may begin to hear some of the stories that invariable resurface, every year.

Stories like the one year when the whole family went to a Holiday Inn Thanksgiving buffet. Or the year Mom was in Brazil visiting ailing relatives in an emergency trip, and Dad tried cooking the meal by himself. Or of a time when Mom did not know how to cook a Thanksgiving meal. When Mom did not even know there was a holiday in America named Thanksgiving.

All true.

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. But for people like myself who immigrated here as young adults, who grew up without any experience of this holiday, Thanksgiving is a holiday we learn to slowly embrace as our own.

I remember translated American books mentioning a “day of giving thanks”… that fell somewhere between the day Americans carved pumpkins and Christmas. Once I thought that Thanksgiving was another name my neighbors of the north had for Christmas. After all, on Christmas, in my family home in South America, we always gave thanks to God. And of course, that was the one day of the year we ate turkey.

After our marriage, for many years, we hosted graduate students who came from other countries for a festive meal. I usually cooked my own Brazilian-style food. As the years followed each other and the kids grew, I started asking my patient and inspiring Mother-in-law for the secrets of this most–dear of all American meals. I remember the Thanksgiving I helped her dress and bake the turkey at her house. I remember writing down her delicious bread-onion-celery-sage Stuffing recipe. I remember learning the ins and outs of the perfect homemade gravy with a dear college friend who was over at our home (in New Jersey then). And I developed my own perfect Apple Pie through the years: my husband’s most favorite dessert of all.

Thanksgiving is not a difficult meal to prepare. But for a foreign national, it can look incredibly intimidating.

It is so delightful to me that now I am able now to prepare a wonderful and delicious Thanksgiving meal. That the older kids take the time to travel home for the occasion, and that we enjoy the entire day together. We will again participate in the Turkey Day 5K and cook together all day… with great music in the background and while playing our board games. That we will sit together around the beautiful table, and take turns expressing all we are thankful for: personal achievements, treasured moments, new friendships. The list will be long, as our children are numerous, but the list will be crowned by our giving thanks to God for Life, Love, Faith, Liberty, and Safety.

Today, as an American citizen, I am proud to welcome guests to our house on Thanksgiving Day. May our door be always open and inviting to those who, like me, were unaware of this beautiful day, set apart as a day to give thanks.

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