We were not supposed to be home this Thanksgiving. We were supposed to be riding somewhere in south east Asia, eating Thai, Lao or Vietnamese food. Cycling in the mountains of northern Thailand, or taking a flat boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. Heading east into Vietnam and exploring some of the less tourist areas, again seeking out the less visited mountain villages and then exploring Siagon.
Alas, we are home.
Instead, we spent the traditional American holiday that always falls on the 4th Thursday in November with family and friends. A time to be thankful and give praise. There are plenty of Americans that will tell you how Thanksgiving should be celebrated. For example, the menu, turkey and stuffing is traditional followed by pumpkin pie. Somehow this celebration feast has become synonymous with stuffing our faces until it is necessary to loosen our belts or worse, put on sweat pants. Some will say that football must be watched while others will use the time to reunite with loved ones often with copious amounts of booze. In my circle of friends, a holiday is synonymous with time to get outside, to explore nature, go for a run or bike ride before indulging in the sweats requiring meal.
This year, perhaps because we weren’t supposed to be here, we were particularly reflective at Thanksgiving. We are happy to be home to be with family, to play with the pups and to rehab an injury so we can get back on the bikes.
My (Janet’s) family was always generous during the holidays when I was growing up. I remember my folks putting on quite impressive spreads and inviting friends, acquaintances and colleagues who had no family close by or who did not traditionally celebrate thanksgiving, Many of our guests were from other countries who were spending a short time in the U.S. to study or complete a Post doc. I remember one Chinese guest saying that it was his first time ever trying turkey.
In college, I took to putting on a Thanksgiving meal with my friends which included my brother, Paul. We would host an elaborate party with a huge spread. There was always lots of food and drink. The party often lasted for days. Football was watched – and often flag football was played until dark. I have fond memories of these thanksgiving gatherings, and am often reminded of them when I hear my students doing the same- planning and organizing their first thanksgiving dinner in their own home.
I spent two years in England during the early Nineties, my first time away for Thanksgiving. I remember putting on my own version of Thanksgiving for my friends in the U.K. We would combine the Guy Fawkes celebration (November 5th) with a traditional American thanksgiving meal. Instead of football, we would have a fantastic bonfires outside complete with fireworks. I think this is a tradition I could get used to!
After moving to Oregon, we joined our thanksgiving celebration with our wonderful friends in Portland. The DeAlvare/Jonsson/Selbe clan invited us to join their celebration at their home in West Linn. For years, there was no question about what we were going to do for Thanksgiving. We would make fresh bread and often desserts, bring some wine and spend a wonderful day with one of the most gracious families I know. Lala traditionally prepared the turkey and we all would eat until we were ready to burst. The table was always decorated beautifully and the house resonated with children of all ages. Every year we would meet new and interesting people from around the globe. Instead of football, we had engaging conversations and discovered new people and places we wanted to go.
There were other Thanksgiving memories from which I cannot put a time or date on – for example, one year we all did a Turkey Trot 5k in La Canada, Susan (my sister-in-law), the kids and I. I only recently, in preparation for our trip, sent the run shirt to Goodwill. Another very memorable Thanksgiving was the year we decided to camp outside at Big Sir. We invited everyone- but the only ones who joined us were my mom, our dogs at the time, and my dad and his wife. We camped at Limekiln State Park and we all pitched in to have a full Turkey dinner camping style. It was fantastic – except – it dumped rain the entire time. It rained so much that the tent my mom was sleeping in flooded. I am surprised that Mom will still come camping with us after this adventure!
The past couple of years, we’ve spent Thanksgiving with my sister, her husband and their three beautiful kids in Portland. Last year we had the Peterson clan (well most of it) come and stay with us for a week. It was the first time in over 20 years that all of the Peterson kids and Mom and Dad were under one roof at the same time. And we had three generations of Peterson’s all gathered as well. It is a Thanksgiving I will never forget.
This year, I found myself a bit ambivalent about Thanksgiving. Obviously we had not made plans far in advance, because we weren’t supposed to be here. In the end, with my famous ability to double book, we arranged to have two Thanksgivings, one with my sister in Portland and one with good friends.
We spent the morning on a grueling, cold and wet bike ride in the hills around our house. We shared a beer with my sister and family in Portland before heading over to our friends for a non-traditional thanksgiving dinner. I was grateful for the company and for the butternut squash soup, fresh salad, roasted root vegetables, green beans and frittatas followed by homemade forest berry pies. Although football was on the T.V. at the end, we spent our post prandial time in conversation reminiscing about past adventures and getting excited about future plans. It was the perfect way for me to be present but not be fully immersed in the Thanksgiving tradition.
Our friends and family are spread out around the globe. Distance from family has always been a factor in our lives. Physical distance may make it so we cannot sit down at the Thanksgiving table with family and friends but it does not stop us from loving them whole heartedly. Happy holidays everyone!