As an adult immigrant to this country, Thanksgiving is a holiday I had to learn. I'm not ashamed to admit that at the time, the differences between that and Halloween were not quite clear in my little European head. It all seemed to be about pumpkins, corn and turkeys. And who were those guys with the little funny hats? I dug up a column I wrote about my first Thanksgiving a couple of years ago - you can read that below - and this is my way of wishing you a happy Thanksgiving. Thanks for supporting your neighborhood blog.
I celebrated my first Thanksgiving as a 25-year-old back in ’91, at a time where I’d lived in this country for about four months. It was a balmy fall in Maryland with brilliant colors all around and a few warm and dry days thrown in here and there.
A bit puzzled by the concept of Thanksgiving and the little men in funny hats – they turned out to be pilgrims, what did I know? – I watched children’s programs on Public Television and pieced together the story behind the holiday and the traditional meal.
I couldn’t believe the size of the frozen turkeys at the store.
For a farm girl I had no turkey experience whatsoever, except for the one time a neighbor – Harald – raised an odd-looking orphan chick which turned into a bronze turkey. We’d never seen anything like it – in my 9-year-old eyes the bird grew to the size of a Hereford calf.
It was a remarkably gentle bird, which spent the day strutting around, growing, and it looked just like the turkeys we’d seen in my dad’s old Donald Duck comic books.
The bird’s gentleness ended the day Harald decided it was time for the giant gobbler to hit the dining table, in the same fashion every respectable duck or goose did.
Harald cornered the turkey in the chicken pen, where he watched in shock as it morphed into a ferocious feathered beast that went after him with a knife-sharp beak and flapping wings as hard as baseball bats.
"It kicks like a horse," Harald told my dad, when he called for backup. "I think it saw the ax."
Harald was no wimp: among many jobs, he was the county gravedigger – a position he held, using simply a shovel, well into his 70s.
It took three grown men to hold the turkey down and, um, take care of business.
I’m sure the turkey was pretty surprised.
After proper plucking and cleaning, the beast couldn’t fit in the oven, which was of a modest Scandinavian size, accommodating mostly pork roasts.
The story goes that Harald’s wife chopped the turkey in half, then in quarters, and un-ceremoniously braised and roasted it. They said it tasted "quite well" – I never had any, but to this day I can’t look at a turkey without thinking of that story.
Anyhow. My first Thanksgiving was spent in Iowa. We left the greater D.C. area by car in golden sunlight and hit Chicago in a snowstorm.
Immigrant lesson No. 1: This is a big country – the weather is not the same in all the states at any given time.
Once safely in Cedar Falls, I was swept along with the ritual of Thanksgiving as it unfolded in my ex-husband’s family. I don’t remember really cooking anything, but I had my first taste of that heavenly concoction that’s pecan pie.
I’d brought a dress for the occasion, but I don’t remember dressing up. Spending a holiday in sweat pants and slippers is a very difficult concept for a properly raised Dane to embrace.
Immigrant lesson No. 2: Americans don’t dress up as frequently as Danes do.
A son-in-law was assigned turkey-cooking duty, since he was a chef at a local restaurant.
"You never know," I pondered as I followed every step in the rather simple process he applied to the giant bird in the kitchen, "if I end up sticking around here in America, maybe I’ll have to cook one of these monsters by myself some day."
Immigrant lesson No. 3: There’s no such thing as a Thanksgiving turkey that’s too big, as long as you get up early enough to put it in the oven.
So, I paid attention and I stuck around. Today I have a couple dozen roasted turkeys in my past. I’ve also grown to really like Thanksgiving: I love the quiet morning, especially when I get up to cook before anyone else wakes up; I love the football games and the parades on TV and the moments of gentle reflection that come to me during the day.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow.
This column first appeared on Nov. 21, 2007