That first Thanksgiving from home was one to remember! I had thought it would be a sad time, and years later there would be very sad Thanksgivings; but the first one turned out to be amazing. I try not to use that word, "amazing," too often; so when I say I was amazed I mean it. Maybe I was amazed that I, and my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in Jamaica would be so remembered and blessed by others. The "others" in this case was the United States Army based on Guantanamo Bay. Apparently they had a freezer load of Turkeys and decided to fly them over to Kingston. One of our leaders, Mrs. Ford, rounded up volunteers to take a turkey and cook it.
I and some of my team members went to the Peace Corps office and picked up the turkey. We realised we would need to pluck some of the feather remnants, and were amazed (that word again) that it was so big! We knew there was an oven we could use, but could we shove it in? And we remembered that none of us had had any turkey training.
It was time for a call home, which was expensive in those days. It was the 70's. As my mother was the one with the Home Economics degree, it was my mother we called on the Girl Guide Headquarters phone. They kindly gave us permission to use it, though one or two people in the Guide office were amused that we didn't know how to cook one of our own traditional foods.
Mom gave us the directions, Travis (last name of co- Peace Corps Volunteer), Dave (not real name or he would kill me), Naomi (one of the women in our training group who used the excuse of being a full blooded Hopi Tribe member "Hey, my family wasn't in on this at Plymouth,"as a reason for also not knowing what to do), and I cleaned that turkey in what was then a Jamaican way of cleaning chickens (this we had in PC training) by scrubbing it with lemon and salt. We stuffed it with something edible and shoved that bird in the oven. It fit!
We set the timer and basted it every hour as mom said, and got it all ready to load in the back of a jeep. Travis named it "Harry," as it had a few still-unplucked hairs on it, and he said he wanted to insert a little name tag on the big bird so that we knew which one was ours when it joined the other turkeys on the long set of extended tables being set up for the occasion.
Soon, American Peace Corps and British VSO volunteers were pouring into Kingston. The Army turkeys lined up and cooked, set the centerpiece of a table loaded with all the other dishes from various regions of either Jamaica or some rendition of a home favourite. Some of the volunteers had received care packages, and they shared. After we had enjoyed a meal that was beyond our wildest expectations for that day, the British volunteers challenged the Americans to an after dinner basketball game and soccer/football game. It was humiliating to lose at basketball that year, but we used the excuse that our best players were still out in the bush and couldn't make the journey. The banter was always full-on between the various volunteer groups.As we left that day, we challenged each other to a "no mercy game," next year.
Next year was great, as far as I can recall; but nothing can take the shine off the amazement that soldiers on an American Army base had though of us and sent the turkeys. You see, it was the time of the Vietnam War, and it was said in some quarters that Peace Corps people like us were just a bunch of draft dodgers. Not the women, as we didn't join the army in those days; but the guys. Yet they sent the turkeys. That will always amaze me. It felt like what I have come to know as grace.
This year, I am in another country. This time, my kids and their spouses will be around the table. My son and his lovely wife got married this past summer, so we will also be blessed to have his best man and his family also with us. It will be English and American, and half English and half American squeezing into a table that has been extended beyond its capability. I am determined that next year we will hold this meal in a barn and all nationalities (I do want the Italians here, too) of our growing family will be sitting comfortably.
I love it when a guest to this meal asks, "So, is this a traditional American Thanksgiving recipe?" If they point to my favourite dish (sweet potato casserole complete with giant marshmallows), there is usually a little concern in their voice. I reassure them that only I and my daughter eat that one. Most of the dishes will be southern, if we can source the ingredients and it is getting easier in the global markets each year. We even have a dish or two from New York, and are reminded of family and friends who are not around the table.
If you are invited to this meal, and have never attended before; do go. You might be asked to bring a dish. Bring one from your own cultural recipe book. You can look up ideas on so many websites now. Above all, remember to bring a thought about something for which you are thankful; perhaps something that has truly amazed you this year. Be prepared to share.
And now, years later; my husband and I have come to know and love a ministry that literally flies out of Venice, Florida. The pilots, the crew and ground staff serve missionaries in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas and now Cuba. Each week they take supplies to the missionaries so that in turn, the missionaries may serve their communities. In one of my all time favourite acts of service, they deliver Thanksgiving Dinner! Please check out the link to learn more: Agape Flights Thanksgiving Project!
About to Relocate? Are you already living in a country not your own? About to head "home?"
Have a look on the Useful Books and Stuff page, and order Parents on the Move! today.