THIS WEEK IS GOING to be one that big decisions will be made by most fami- lies: the decision to get everyone together to feast as is the tradition of every other Thanksgiving. It will be different no matter how each family decides to celebrate. I was thinking about some of the Thanksgiving celebrations from my past and realized I have had more Thanksgiving celebrations than someone my age would have. First of all I come from a very traditional family and I married into a very traditional family. I grew up with a huge extended family that gets together to feast. It seemed to me like there were 20 to 30 people coming and going on that day.
I can remember a few Thanksgivings when the Christmas tree truck driver would call in the middle of it all to say he was pulling into the nursery. Having that many cousins and other riff raff around made it easier for my father to enlist more help real quick to get the trees off that truck so the driver could go somewhere to have his Thanksgiving. If you knew my father you know it wouldn’t be unusual for him to invite the driver over to celebrate with us. Besides our large family we always had someone else who, for one reason or anoth- er, would celebrate at one of our many tables. The only decision to be made was whether or not to sit at an adult table or the kiddy table.
For the longest time I couldn’t wait to be invited to sit at an adult table, then once that happened I couldn’t get back to the kiddy table fast enough, way more fun. I soon realized that no matter how much I thought I was the cool uncle or cool dad there’s really no such thing. I soon went back to the adult tables forever. The adult version of finding out the truth about Santa Claus.
Until this year Mimi‘s family hosted a huge Thanksgiving that I felt right at home with. Lots of cooking and eating and visiting in the Ozarks where we had celebrated the last 27 years. Since Mimi's mother has moved from the Ozarks to Ridgeland to be closer to us we will start new traditions with my family that we are excited about.
I loved it up there this time of year. They are three or four weeks ahead of us weather wise causing us to pack for colder temperatures than we’re are used to here.
THE REASON I have had more Thanksgivings than my age is that some of the countries I have been to during that time have different dates and reasons to celebrate. In Holland, where I worked in the tulip fields, we celebrated Thanksgiving on the first Wednesday in November. Many of the pilgrims who migrated to the Plymouth plantation came from Leiden in Holland. It’s not a public holiday but people go to church once or twice that day with meals in between. I would have my private Thanksgiving feast on the real Thanksgiving day in my tent with some concoction of a meal.
I had three Thanksgiving years in Grenada where I was a Peace Corps volunteer producing papaya. In Grenada we celebrated Thanksgiving on October 25. The day marks the anniversary of the US lead invasion of the island in 1983. The American military saved the Grenadians from what could’ve been a terrible take over by a leadership that would have been a disaster. All those years I would celebrate their Thanksgiving with them but I would also celebrate our Thanksgiving with friends or other Peace Corps volunteers.
There is a Thanksgiving that I will never forget. I had been stealthily moving around the Mediterranean Ocean after my job in the Netherlands ended. After six months of moving farther and farther south trying to find the climate that suits my clothes I had crossed over into Africa via the Straits of Gibraltar by boat seeking warmer temperatures. From there I slowly moved farther south until I couldn't go any farther south.
After six weeks in the Sahara I bumped into the border of the point where the Western Sahara meets Mauritania. There were very few people down there other than large and small groups of Desert nomads on their camels so I was surprised when I walked right into a military encampment. They told me that was as far as I could go because there was some civil unrest right around the next sand dune. I had finally reached the end of the line, thought I’d never get there. I quickly evacuated that situation which left me deep in the desert headed towards the nearest village to find a place to sleep and find provisions and whatever else came my way.
By that time I had discovered that the nomads of all tribes spent their nights with their camels to protect them and whatever they were hauling to wherever they were going to trade goods. These nomadic camps were the most beautiful and interesting thing I have ever seen. Depending on which nomadic tribes they were a part of, one tribe wore all white, some wore light blue, some had unique ways of wearing their clothes that protected them from the daytime heat and the plunging nighttime temperatures.They all decorated their camels with beautiful colors and camel jewelry. I doubt they had a Camels-Are-Us store to get these things so it was very specialized handmade adornments.
I have no pictures of this period of the journey since a customs agent felt like my camera was his camera. I argued about that to no avail. It’s hard to argue when you don’t speak Arabic. I would have to rely on my memory until I could procure another camera. The photos I could have taken of these nomadic camps would have been National Geographic good. I wasn’t sure how the camel drivers would feel about me hanging out with them so I had to test it out. It turns out that ‘extremely welcoming’ would be a bit too strong of a description as far as them allowing me in.
They didn’t seem to mind me being there, in fact they hardly noticed I was there with them outside the mud village walls. There would be several fires going. At each fire there would be a huge cauldron of stew with root crops, vegetables and iguana which is used to season the broth. There was a wedge of bread that was cooked on the fire and used to sop up the soup since there were no spoons. This meal is available to anyone that needs a meal. You were expected to contribute when you could and eat heartily when you couldn’t. I was fresh out of iguanas so I didn't have much to contribute. I offered a few dirhams every time, sometimes they would accept that and sometimes they wouldn’t, just a welcoming gesture.
They really didn't have much use for money, it didn’t fit into their lifestyle.
I had been spending my nights like this for a couple of weeks and had gotten to the point where I looked forward all day to spending another evening under the black sky with people who have been doing it like this for thousands of years.
ONE THANKSGIVING night I will never forget was after seeing a particularly large tribe and their camels slowly pulling into the village where I was hanging out. As I watched the long camel train pull in I realized I was seeing the tribe of the fabled Blue People. I had seen one or two blue people mixed in crowds in Marrakesh but I have never seen a whole tribe of them. Blue people are unusually tall and their skin is so black that it almost seems blue. They wore light blue robes which made for quite a sight against the golden sand. They began unloading their camels and making camp, getting fires going outside the village walls and gathering provisions in the village. I knew this would somehow make for a very interesting night.
I noticed on this night there was a huge wooden box full of bowl shaped things available to anyone who needed one.They were passing by the box to pick out their bowl shaped thing then onto the cauldron where someone ladled out some hot stew and a wedge of that wonderful bread. When it was time for me to pick out my bowl shaped thing I picked out a Volkswagen hubcap. There were several in there. I picked out the one that seemed the cleanest and got my ladle of soup and went back to lean against the wall where I spent most of the evening watching this spectacle.
As meals were finished and bowls were placed back in the box, the fires were stoked and the musical instruments came out. Lots of drums and some stringed instruments that I didn't recognize. As nice as the instrument sounded it was the singing that was unforgettable. The songs were thousands of years old and in a language I think was either Bedouin or Berber, I couldn’t tell, but it seemed that the entire tribe was joining in. The moment was very moving as I realized that this was probably how they spend every night until they lulled themselves and me to sleep in order to get ready for yet another long day in a camel train.
I had recently traded my tent for a carpet so I was sleeping under the stars with the rest of them, lots of weird sounds with that many tired men and the camels with their burping and arguing all night. I knew that it was Thanksgiving that night and I knew it would be a Thanksgiving I would remember always. I gave thanks to being able to experience this night and gave thanks for everything about my life that made it possible for me to be able to live life however I chose to.
I hope that you have figured out a way to make your Thanksgiving one you will cherish and remember as one of your favorite Thanksgivings ever. We will start new traditions this year but I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. With a little effort and creativity you might create one that no one will ever forget. Memories, after all, are all we really have in the end.