Abandoned by the majority of my friends and acquaintances (including even my roommate) I found myself alone during American Thanksgiving weekend while I was a sophomore at NYU. (This is where I mention that I’m Canadian and we celebrate our own Thanksgiving in October, thus my reason for staying put).
At first I was looking forward to a bit of solitude, but there’s only so many bowls of granola a girl can eat, and so many episodes of America’s Top Model a girl can watch before she’s less “fierce” and more famished for warm food and three-dimensional people.
My saving grace was a poster in the laundry, reading, “Stuck here for the holidays? Join us at the Student Lounge for a traditional American Thanksgiving at 6:00!”
“Are you going to the dinner this evening?” A voice asked behind me.
I turned around to face a skinny Asian kid with glasses, who was in the middle of folding his tightie whities.
“I don’t know.”
“You should come. I hear they going to have turkey all the way from Boston.”
“You’re kidding me,” I said. “That must be some turkey.”
Curious about this Boston turkey, and starving for substance and companionship, I found myself at the Student Lounge at 6:00 that night.
“Welcome!” chirped a girl who called herself the dorm’s student council president, an organization of which I had never heard of before. “The party’s just getting started.”
The “party” consisted of about a dozen foreign students, including Tightie Whitie, sitting around a table amongst handmade decorations and balloons.
“I heard you have quite the special turkey,” I said.
“Oh. Well, I don’t know about that,” she said. “It’s just from Boston Market.”
I stayed anyway. I waved hello to Tighties Whities and was introduced to the other students, none of whom I’d never met before. One was from Germany, another from Mexico, and a few—Tightie Whitie—hailed from China. They were all far away from their families, all exceptionally friendly, and very excited to be partaking in an American tradition.
“This macaroni and cheese is delicious!” One exclaimed.
“The turkey is so very good,” said Tightie Whitie.
It really wasn’t. The turkey was rubbery. The mac ‘n cheese was cold. But somehow the meal was delightful, truthfully even more so than the ones I was used to back at home. As I laughed and bonded with these strangers at a plastic, picnic table, using plastic, take-out cutlery, I was learning what true grace looked and felt like. It wasn’t grumbling about seeing the in-laws, or whose turn it was to cook the turkey this year. There were no feelings of onerous obligation—only feelings of gratitude and accepting life for what it is in the present moment, and openly sharing it with those around you.
When it was time for us to go around the table and express what each of us was thankful for, it was a unanimous sentiment: “I’m grateful for this meal and being here with you tonight.” I felt a sense of belonging and camaraderie with my new group of friends that was tied with the acceptance of Thanksgiving patterns—and life—changing because, of course, this was part of growing up.
* * *
The next year, I would spend American Thanksgiving in New York again, and this time with an entirely new group of people. My friend Anna brought me along to her co-worker’s boyfriend’s (say that three times fast) loft in Brooklyn. There were eight of us at dinner, all Thanksgiving orphans, all craving company and carbs. It was a potluck dinner, which allowed us to get to know one another through our food: The Pigs In Blankets Guy was goofy, the Veggies and Dip Girl was down-to-earth, the Vegan Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake Couple were high-maintenance, but sweet. We drank a lot of wine and played drunk charades. I vaguely remember exciting them with my Britney Spears impression. I clearly remember looking out from their rooftop at the New York skyline and feeling like there was no place I’d rather be.
As much as I liked Thanksgiving with my own family back home, I was comfortable with melding the old with the new, knowing that someday, there wouldn’t be the old—only the new.
That time came a few years later. I was living in Brooklyn and unable to go home for my own Thanksgiving dinner in October. So, instead, I thought I’d have the most grown-up Thanksgiving meal yet: my own.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” My mom had asked me over the phone when I called for her stuffing recipe.
“Doesn’t she know that it’s hard work?” My dad demanded in the background. “It’s a commitment!”
“I’m not marrying the turkey,” I said. I was now on speakerphone.
“Well, you’re gonna have to put your hand up his ass,” he said.
“I don’t care about that,” I said (although, I kind of did). “I want to do this.”
I couldn’t blame my parents’ uneasiness with my decision to cook such an elaborate dinner. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t cook; I just didn’t. I went from my mom’s home-cooked meals to a college meal plan to working at restaurants and chowing down at family meals. My culinary capabilities had yet to be proven in the kitchen except for making a decent grilled cheese sandwich, while drunk, on a gas stove, without blowing up the house. So I had some skills. But my desire wasn’t about flexing my cooking skills or exploring my lack thereof; I wanted to create a Thanksgiving meal that was mine.
Well, mine and my boyfriend’s. I was cooking for him and his friends, who were visiting from Texas.
“Well, good luck,” said my parents.
I was adamant in cooking the entire meal by myself. My boyfriend was busy entertaining his pals anyway, but I was convinced my rite of passage into adulthood belonged to me conquering that turkey, and whatever was up its ass.
I kept the rest of the meal simple: a couple of vegetable sides, including mashed potatoes, a pumpkin pie, which I bought at a bakery because I was eager, but not stupid enough to mess with pastry.
I woke up early on Thanksgiving morning like it was Christmas. I bounded to the kitchen, carried the turkey from the fridge and placed it on the cutting board. For better or for worse, I had named it: Victor.
“OK, Victor. Let’s do this.” Taking a deep breath, I stuck my hand up Victor’s ass. As it turns out, I was pretty savvy with that turkey’s tush, yanking out all of his gizzards in a couple of quick swoops with my un-gloved hand. (Insert deft proctologist joke here). Into the oven Victor went, and then I moved onto steaming the vegetables.
After six hours of cooking, my boyfriend and his friends arrived at my apartment. There were no kitchen fires or slicing and dicing injuries to report; I was pretty pleased with myself.
My boyfriend’s friends, on the other hand, were pretty quiet, which is putting it politely. After exchanging pleasantries with me, they went straight to the couch and turned on the television. When dinner was served, they trudged to the table and gobbled up their food in silence. There was no grace, no “What are thankful for this Thanksgiving?” gesture, no drunk charades. Six hours of cooking translated into barely sixteen minutes of eating. I couldn’t believe it. All I wanted was to create a tradition of my own. All I was left with was a sink full of dirty dishes.
“That’s Thanksgiving,” my mom said to me after I relayed to her what had happened hours later. “You slave all day over a hot stove and then it’s eaten within seconds.”
“But that’s not what Thanksgiving should be like, “ I said.
“Oh, it’s definitely, bullshit,” my mom said. “That’s why you have to find your own meaning for doing it.”
Admittedly, I had been focused on the negative. I was able to see the good from sharing a mediocre Boston Market meal with strangers and even from performing a ridiculous version of “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” which I’m pretty sure involved somersaulting, but I wasn’t able to see the virtuousness from cooking my first Thanksgiving meal, complete with sticking my hand up a turkey’s ass?
The truth was I had created a tradition of my own, and I was thankful for it. I also was able to share my tradition with the man I loved, and I was thankful for that, too. And I was even thankful for his two goofy friends because they had eaten most of the pie, and I knew if they hadn’t, I would be polishing it off.
“Being disappointed is part of growing up, “ my mom said. “Just wait until you do Christmas.”
“No, thank you, “ I said.