A First Thanksgiving

Moving DayHow many of you had to pack up and relocate at least once in the course of your lives? Most likely the majority of you did.

Now, how many of you had to pack up and relocate to a new country? A handful of you may have. It definitely was not easy leaving behind everything familiar, to be faced with the new and alien.

I did it twice and actually enjoyed it. Both times, moving to a totally new and foreign environment was exciting and mostly fun, even if it was a little scary and somewhat of a culture shock. For me, variety is truly the spice of life.

I come from the Middle East, from Israel, to be precise. My language is Hebrew, and I grew up Jewish. You will probably agree that barely understanding the language and totally misunderstanding the culture, calls for mountains of trouble and it sometimes seems that I spend most of my time adapting and adjusting. I have many stories about that, and this story is about my first Thanksgiving in the USA.

It was a Wednesday afternoon, late in November, when the children came home from school with the news that they had five days of vacation.

“Can’t be,” I said. “Christmas is at the end of December!”

“It is a holiday called Thanksgiving,” they chuckled.

“Thanksgiving? What kind of holiday is that?” I questioned the children.

“Something to do with the Indians, Tommy Turkey and saying thank you. Don’t ask me for what,” said Lori, my daughter, “but, it is a great celebration in this country.”

Now, remember that my children too, were in the process of learning the language and didn’t always understand what was going on in class. In Israel when we call someone a “turkey” we mean to say, “not very smart”. I was wondering about this poor Tommy and how terrible it was to insult him like that.

I kept that to myself and announced, “If this festival is a great American event, we’d better get into the mood and prepare a big feast. We will have a nice dinner tomorrow. We will celebrate this country’s holiday. How about, you guys making up the menu?”

The next day, Thanksgiving Day, we all were very excited and spent the morning hours planning our dinner. My husband was on a trip to Europe, and as I rarely cooked, our refrigerator was practically bare of sensible ingredients for a feast. First, we had to do some serious grocery shopping.

Bert, my husband’s son, who had come from Switzerland to visit us in Florida, announced that he would bake bread and cook Nasi Goreng, an Indonesian dish his mom had taught him to make. Lori wanted to make humus and tahini, an Israeli-Arab dish. I was all for buying a nice cake and lots of ice cream. Shai, my youngest child, would choose the flavors. I learned later that our feast, had it materialized, would not have been a typical Thanksgiving dinner.

It was three in the afternoon when we finally ventured out to do our shopping. “Wow!” Lori observed, “The streets seem deserted. This will be an easy drive Mom, you won’t have to worry about navigating the traffic.” I was very pleased, as I admit to not being the best driver ever. Mind you, I get the job done, but it often is slow going with me behind the wheel.

Our first stop was Publix. We preferred their vegetables to those at Albertson’s. It was worth going the extra mile, particularly on a day without much traffic.

When we got there, we were very surprised to see the parking lot empty and the store closed. “Children,” I said, “did you hear anything about Publix closing their doors? It was such a great store. I suppose we will have to make do with Albertson’s in the future.” I made a rather daring U-turn and directed our little Honda in that direction. On our arrival there, we were all amazed to also find that store, closed.

“American grocery stores must be on strike,” I told the children. “I guess their workers are trying to get the minimum wage raised.”

I was attempting to remain upbeat, but the closed stores and the empty streets caused me to have an uneasy, somewhat eerie feeling. A little like in an old cowboy movie, just before the good guy is going to have a shoot-out with the bad guy. I am known for a somewhat overactive imagination and actually felt a little scared on this thank-you day. Were we in danger? Making an effort, I pulled myself together and announced, in a wavering voice, “Nothing to worry about children, let’s have ice cream at the corner café and make a new plan.”

You can imagine our dismay at finding this establishment securely and ominously closed. My heart sank and I was now near to having a panic attack. Where was John Wayne when we needed him most?

“Mom,” said Shai, “I think the Gas station at the 7/11 is open. There is a car parked in front.”

Greatly relieved with this first sign of life, we hurried to the 7/11, and at last we had something to give thanks for. The store was open. On entering, I was not surprised we were the only customers and asked the lonely attendant, “Excuse me mister, why are all the stores closed today?”

The man looked at me in utter amazement, shook his head, presumably to make sure he was not seeing things, and then patiently explained, “It is Thanksgiving lady. On Thanksgiving everything is closed, except the gas stations.”

It was getting late, and we had nothing to eat at home, and so we filled our shopping basket at the 7/11 with soggy white bread, potato chips, hot dogs and peanut butter.

In spite of it all, we had fun, and celebrated with glee our first Thanksgiving in the new country.

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