Saturday, November 27, 2010

giving thanks

After the whirlwind of a wonderful trip that was Denmark, I've come back to a sunny, warm Istanbul and a pile of work to catch up on. Essays to write, half-finished paintings and drawings, freelance pieces and Thanksgiving. This past Thursday was Thanksgiving, an American holiday with ties to harvest time, centred around giving thanks for what we have been given in life. Traditionally it is said that the day marks a time when the New England pilgrims were on the brink of starvation, and the resident Native Americans came to the pilgrim's aid with food, thus saving their lives.

Growing up, this holiday was perhaps the most important in our household. We were nomads, moving from country to country, culture to culture, rootless with no sense of home except where we decided upon the moment. My mother, an American, was adamant about keeping this one tradition alive— it was her favourite childhood holiday, and she insisted my sisters and I have the pleasure of this family feast as well. A typical American Thanksgiving meal is composed of a tender, stuffed roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, gravy and pumpkin pie. No matter which country we were in, my mother would somehow track down a turkey, even if they were not traditionally farmed or eaten in that culture— which often meant visiting butcher shop after butcher shop and befriending expats who might have a turkey connection. There were times when my young mother, who had been raised in a land of pre-packaged poultry, had to learn how to pluck a bird, gut it and decapitate it. Most people would have stopped at plucking the feathers, but my mum was determined.
We would have a turkey.

Cranberries were hidden in cans and bags between layers of our clothes in our suitcases if we happened to visit a country were they were available, yams were hunted down, and somehow, it always all came together in the most elegant and delicious way. Our house would be fragrant with rosemary and roasted turkey, sweetened by baking pies— it was a magical time. Our little family would gather together, invite friends and dine on my mum's determination and thoughtfulness. This was the one thing that connected me with America, a land I barely knew.

This year my mum found a new butcher— believe it or not, a turkey is not always easy to acquire in Turkey, brought in yams and cranberries from Lebanon, and invited a full house of friends to share our feast. This has been the third Thanksgiving I've been able to spend at home since I left for college at seventeen. Every year this holiday passes, I am reminded of how truly magnificent this woman is, and how lucky I am to call her mother.