We don’t do Thanksgiving in Australia and, before I moved to New York, I simply couldn’t understand the appeal. This is because the sum total of my Thanksgiving knowledge came from television sit-coms. To whit:
1. Family members were forced to come together and pretend to be happy, during which old arguments were invariably resurrected
2. Food preparation was exhausting, either resulting in the cook becoming mentally unstable, or frozen turkey being served up for dinner, or both
Then there was the cultural shame that stemmed from the realisation that I would be “giving thanks” for a land that had actually been stolen (a shame with which as an Aussie, I am already all too familiar).
It has been two years and one month since I left New York, although it feels like another lifetime ago. I have plenty to be thankful for and I wouldn’t change a thing, but it is true that I miss that place and deeply miss my friends in New York, every day.
And despite all of my misgivings, New York taught me the meaning of Thanksgiving. Or at least a meaning, one that resonated with me.
On Thanksgiving morning, my friend Misha (who I call my sister – she’s the one in the black & white apron) and I traipsed up to Wholefoods on Bowery for supplies. Mish could happily spend a day in Wholefoods, if I let her, and on other occasions I had been known to actually sit down in the aisles to take a load off while Mish perused baby beet salads to her heart’s content. But after a relatively brief (for Mish) two hours of shopping, balancing paper bags bulging with groceries, we trundled back home to cook up a friendly storm.
Outside the wind really picked up and the first snow was just around the corner, but inside was all warmth and happiness and friendship.
Mish and I lived in the same building, on Thompson Street in SoHo, and we had other friends also in our building, so we shared kitchens. All of us were travel-orphans: blow-ins from the mid-west, the south, the UK, the antipodes… and on that day we became each other’s family.
Our apartment doors stayed open and the building filled with our laughter and conversation, the music we played, and the many mingled smells of roasting turkey, mashed potato, sweet corn, green beans, pumpkin soup, cranberries, hot home-made apple cider, cinnamon and pie. My dog Oliver and Misha’s cat Mr Lee wove in and out of our legs all day, in food-scrap heaven.
When we finally uncorked our bottles of wine and sat down to eat, it was anywhere you could stake a spot. On the edge of the couch, on the floor, on the window sill, and we ate until bellies bulged and food comas threatened.
There was no bickering, the work and the food were all happily shared, and the thanks we gave were for one another and for our loved ones far away but close in our hearts. I was filled to the brim, as much with thanks as with food.
Thank you, America, for teaching me the absolute beauty of setting aside one day – just one special day – to do nothing but cook and eat and love.
And happy Thanksgiving, from me to you. xo