Excerpt from my second book, More Postcards From Across the Pond
Sorry I couldn\’t come up with anything original, but it\’s a busy day for me…
I’m 13, and there’s no school, so I’m up early. Not as early as my mom; no one ever gets up as early as my mom, but today she is up extra early, singing in the kitchen, rattling pots and pans. She isn’t preparing a turkey—we have Thanksgiving dinner at my grandma’s house—but she is making pancakes for breakfast, pumpkin pies to bring to the dinner and sugar cookies for later.
Soon the whole family is up. We have a big breakfast together, which is, in itself, unusual. At ten o’clock, it’s time for the first tradition: gathering the ground pine for the Christmas wreath.
I take two brown paper bags and my little brother, Marc. He’s nine now and old enough to be useful though still too young to be very interesting. We walk down the dirt lane and then cut into the woods. There is no snow yet, but the fields are frosty and the puddles in the marshy ground are thick with ice. We amuse each other by smashing them; as much fun as breaking windows and with no undesirable side-effects.
I know where to hunt for the ground pine and sweep away the frosted leaves with a gloved hand to reveal the little tree-like evergreen shoots. Together we pull up long strands, stuffing the bags full.
At home, my sister is on the phone with her boyfriend and the Macy’s Day parade is on the TV. We watch it while wrapping the ground pine around a bent coat hanger, adding layer after layer while the big, balloons float by on the TV screen. By the time the finale arrives—Santa in his sleigh heralding the official start of the Christmas season—the wreath is done. My mother makes it more festive with some red ribbon and aerosol snow and hangs it on the front door.
Then we leave for grandma’s, the five of us kids stuffed into the backseat singing, “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go!” After a while my mom joins in. My dad stays silent.
Grandma’s kitchen is warm and redolent with the smell of turkey and fresh baked biscuits. My uncles are there, with their wives and children and various boyfriends. We horse around in the chicken coop and play hide and seek among the farm machinery until dinner is ready.
This is a special year, I’m promoted to the grown up table with my older sister, Melinda, while Marc, Matt and Michelle have to sit with their young cousins at the kiddie table. Then the feast appears: stuffing, hot and moist, yams, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans with slivers of almond, creamed corn, boiled carrots, cranberry sauce out of a can, biscuits and, as the main event, turkey, golden brown and steaming as my grandfather cuts into it.
After we’ve eaten so much we think we can’t take another bite, out come the pumpkin pies, mincemeat pies, ice cream, whipped cream and that strange concoction made out of marshmallows, Cool Whip, Jell-o and slivers of tangerine that I never see at any other time of the year but always look forward to.
And after the feast there is a long, languid afternoon that turns into evening with an impromptu dinner of, what else, turkey and stuffing and gravy and…
Much later, on the verge of sleep, my aunts, uncles and grandparents draw a reluctant end to their jovial conversations and we all trundle into the car and back home.
It’s late, and I’m stuffed but there is still time, and just enough room, to sample one of my mom’s sugar cookies.
I’m (you do the math) and my cell phone, which doubles as a travel alarm clock, buzzes me awake. I’m on yet another business trip and I wander around the tiny hotel room, checking my e-mails between showering and getting ready for the day. I have toast for breakfast and head to the client’s offices. It’s another long and grueling session; we don’t break for lunch.
Back at the hotel, I have the steak and kidney pie for dinner because there is nothing on the menu that remotely resembles turkey. No one remarks that it is Thanksgiving; no one knows.
After dinner, I sit outside in the crisp night, watching the cars and the people go by, smoking a cigar and drinking a pint of ale. It’s a lonely business, traveling for work. But it’s not a bad sort of loneliness because I know it will soon be over and I will return home to my wife.
This isn’t where I thought I would be those many years ago, sitting by myself in a strange town thousands of miles from where I was born. I miss the holiday, and I miss gathering with friends and family on this day that is special only to Americans. But we go where life takes us, and even though I did not have a dinner of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, I’m still grateful. When you take away the feast and the fellowship, that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about, counting your blessings, and remembering that you have much to be thankful for.