More Than Just Turkey – An American Expat Explains Thanksgiving

Turkey & The Trimmings

Since moving to England, I’ve had to explain a few American holidays with Thanksgiving being one. There seems to be a lot of confusion here about why we celebrate it and what it is exactly.

Most people know about the turkey, but not much more than that.  A young woman asked me the other day if it’s like Christmas for Americans only without the gifts.

Suppressing a laugh, I said there were no presents at Thanksgiving and that like others who celebrate Christmas, we save our gifts for the tree, not the turkey.

I told her about the early settlers and how fortunate the Pilgrims were to be fed by the Native Americans when there wasn’t enough food to go around.

I talked about how it’s a celebration of family by most and a gathering of people who sit down to tables loaded with memories created from family recipes passed down through generations.

I forgot to mention how it’s football and alcohol and a chance to over-indulge in more than just food for some folks.

I didn’t say much about the thanks in Thanksgiving or how we talk about gratitude and blessings, generally sharing some of what we’re grateful for before the first fork is lifted.

I didn’t say how it feels to be so far from my other home on days like these or how we really do exchange gifts in a way although not the kind that can be purchased from a favorite store.

I should have talked about the gifts of memory that are mixed in with the pie and family favorites, and the stories of loved ones long gone who come alive for a moment when we remember them, especially when we join hands with those sitting next to us, bow our heads and give thanks.

Most Americans, with me included, tend to make a big to-do about the turkey and the trimmings, but in the end I think we just want a little more time with those we love and whether it’s in person, or in memory, Thanksgiving forces us to focus on what really matters.

Happy Thanksgiving to friends and family who celebrate this day.

If you have a gift of memory you’d like to share, I’d love to read about it. Please leave a link if you have one on your blog today or tell us a family favorite that comes up each year. 

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – Seeing Things As They Are


As the world started spinning, Gary thought, “What did Amy put in my drink?”

Gary reached out for the wall hoping to steady himself, but slipped instead scraping his head against the bricks as he tried to sit rather than fall down onto the sidewalk. He’d only had a couple of drinks with this woman he’d met in person a few hours ago, but he felt like he’d been drinking all night. “What is going on…” he thought to himself?  They’d talked on the phone a couple of times after meeting online and had decided to take a chance and meet in person. He’d found her easy to talk with sharing parts of his life he never spoke about, not to anyone. It was easier most days to just keep quiet, but drinking with her had opened doors he thought he had closed and locked years ago and he listened as he shared a little more each time he signaled the waiter to bring them another round. After a couple of drinks, she’d had enough and now that he thought about it, maybe he had more to drink than he’d realized.

It was the first time in a long as he could remember that he’d met someone he even wanted to talk with about more than the weather or what kind of prices were down at the gas pumps. Working at the fire station, he lived a life of extremes with every thing being either too boring or too terrible to share with his mother who seemed like the only person around lately to keep him company when he wasn’t working his shifts down at the station. Gary had lived with her for the last four years moving back home after his dad had died suddenly. He’d only meant to stay long enough to help her adjust to life without the old man, but before he knew it, his leave of absence from his job in North Carolina had run out and he’d made a decision to stay with her in the small town where he’d grown up.

He hated sleeping in his old bedroom smelling the scent of his youth day after day. After 16 years, you’d think the smell of sweaty socks and grubby football jerseys would have disappeared or at least have been covered over by all that damn air fresher his mom keep spraying around the house, Hell, you’d think she was trying to hide a dead body as often as she had that hot pink aerosol can in her hand. Still the smell of canned potpourri was better in some ways than the memories he had when he walked through the door into his room at night. It was like stepping back in time, as if four years of football games and wrestling matches was still ongoing instead of just gone.

Gary didn’t like to remember those days…not anymore.  He had struggled at first, fighting his memories of a time that for the most part, had been the happiest days of his life. He’d had a girl back then who looked at him like he was all she could see and he’d loved that. It was kind of like being the star quarterback on a winning team and even though he’d never played the quarterback position, his high school had gone all the way to the state finals in his senior year before losing in the last 4 seconds of what some people still talked about as the stolen game. He had been so angry that night over sudden loss that he drank more than he usually did after a game. Gary was always pretty careful about how much beer he had not wanting to lose control like some of the people closest to him.  He didn’t like it when saw his dad stumbling over the last step of the home they’d outgrown after the birth of his two brothers. If he hadn’t carved out his attic room he never would have had any privacy. He hadn’t thought much then about the smallness of the house or how it must have made his dad feel never being able to afford move up as the walls of the tiny two bedroom house strained to contain it all with the addition of each child.

Gary swore though that he’d never be like his dad watching him bounce off the living room wall coming through the front door every night and made a silent promise each time he heard his parents fighting in the kitchen, that he would never let booze run his life like it did his dad’s. Losing that night in the state finals had done something to him though and he found himself drinking vodka straight from the bottle with one of the boys he’d grown up with. Seventeen years of fighting over playground equipment, football and who’s girlfriend was the prettiest made for some close friendships or at least that’s what he’d thought until that night. When Joe Little had handed him the bottle with the clear liquid in it he’d resisted at first looking around for another beer. Joe had pushed it back at him saying. ” Go on…it’s practically like drinking water.” Gary had taken it after realizing that the six pack of Coors he’d brought with him was gone. He wondered how he’d managed to drink six beers so quickly as he took the bottle from Joe. Closing his eyes, he put his lips on the bottle trying not to think about how Joe had just had his mouth all over it wondering if the whispered rumors about him were true.

Taking a long pull on the bottle he felt the burn of the liquor as it filled his mouth before swallowing it down quickly, impatient to get away from the taste. The warmth of the 80 proof alcohol hit his body like stepping in from the cold just as he was handing the bottle back to Joe. “Go on man, have some more.” Joe had said and Gary drank holding on to the bottle afterward thinking he’d have just one more and then give it back to Joe. This feeling was different from the slow steady buzz he got by drinking a few beers and he found himself free of the edginess he’d felt after the game. It was as if all the anger had been softened somehow and he felt his adrenaline fading as he took another drink from the bottle.

He struggled for a second to focus his eyes realizing as he read the writing on the bottle that the words didn’t quite make sense especially since it seemed he could only pick out one or two instead of reading the blurred words that made up the paragraph on the front of the bottle. Picking out the word distilled, he wondered to himself if distilled meant the same thing as diluted and for a minute he thought about sitting in Mrs. Hull’s English class and how maybe he’d know more of what words meant if he’d payed more attention to what she was saying then and less about things at home. Passing the bottle back to Joe, Gary thought he could say he was feeling either distilled or diluted inside… he didn’t care which and wrapped as he was in the comfort of his alcohol haze, he guessed either might be a good fit.

Thanks to Judy Harper for her sentence above and more importantly for joining me today with a story of her own to share. Please take a minute to go by and read Judy’s contribution to TMAST.  If you’d like to join us next week you can do it by leaving a topic sentence for others to choose from or by taking a sentence that has been left and using it to write your own short story. Remember it’s practice writing and just for fun.  This morning my story took off in a completely different direction that I imagined just as this type of writing often does. It’s a good opportunity to find your authentic story telling voice and even if you think you’ve got nothing to say…you may surprise yourself.  I hope more of you will join in next week and even if you don’t join the story writing piece please go here and leave me a topic sentence to work with next week. You’ll find three photographs to choose from or you can comment on all three. Thanks for playing and I’ll look forward to reading your words.