This Wasn't Your Grandma's Thanksgiving Turkey

On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek

This Wasn’t Your Grandma’s Thanksgiving Turkey


When Thanksgiving rolls around and families gather to enjoy traditional meals and each other’s company, conversations often tilt to fond recollections about turkeys, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.  A perfect setting for legacy writing exercises…but that is not the original intention of coming together.  We tend to focus on certain aspects of the Thanksgiving holidays with the upcoming one foremost in our thoughts; yet with the memories of past holidays hanging in the air, ready to be savored like the aroma of the turkey browning in the oven.



Not all families and not all family members get to enjoy Thanksgiving in the same manner.  Nor is turkey the only main course served at Thanksgiving dinner.  Those in the hospital; service men and women away on deployment; the homeless; and the isolated…all may experience their Thanksgiving Day in non-traditional ways, if at all.  Yet, the spirit of thankfulness for the abundance in our lives and for which the original Thanksgiving Day was celebrated is a powerful impetus that leads us to travel far by air, ship and automobile, leading people home.
Most of the past Thanksgiving Day meals of the Footloose Forester did consist of turkey as the centerpiece of attraction and of fleeting memories.  Happily, turkey was on the menu when he was in the US Army in California and in Germany; when he was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Pakistan; when he was assigned as a civilian contractor in Viet Nam; and in a couple of other places where he might have been at Thanksgiving time.  The various hosts were obviously not his family, but Army mess halls served turkey; and the American Ambassador in countries overseas was our host when Peace Corps volunteers were invited in at Thanksgiving time.

One year in Cape Verde the Ambassador asked my wife Thu to roast a turkey for a Thanksgiving gathering of expatriate Americans. There were actually three turkeys in his  kitchen; one roasted by his maid, one provided by his secretary, and Thu's.  He saved the best one (Thu's) for himself and served the other ones to the guests.  He said he was going to, and he did.  In Kenya, three American families decided to take Thanksgiving on the road, to the coastal area south of Mombasa where we feasted on turkey and fresh red snapper.  It was a delicious memory.

At other times, generous souls who appreciated the traditional importance of Thanksgiving in American society invited the Footloose Forester into their homes. They even served up the traitional candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce; following by the iconic and traditional pumpkin pie.
In recent years when we are not On the road….again! as often as in the past, my wife and I seek out likely candidates from outside of our family to come and share a day of Thanksgiving in our home.  We recall having a Pakistani graduate student one year in Hawaii, and a French family the following year. The French family returned the favor the following year by inviting us to their apartment for Easter dinner.  There have been a dozen or more Vietnamese students and friends that have also been on our guest list over the years, partly because Thanksgiving is a special American holiday but also because Thanksgiving is not a traditional Vietnamese holiday.  Everyone, without exception, liked the cranberry sauce and the pumpkin pie.
One of the most novel Thanksgiving dinners ever, however; was in 1965 when the Footloose Forester was on leave from his Peace Corps assignment in Pakistan.  He was traveling west through Turkey en route to meet other Peace Corps volunteers in Istanbul.  He was a day late to the rendezvous that had been planned, but they kindly saved him a plate so that he could say that he enjoyed Thanksgiving turkey in Turkey during the Thanksgiving holidays.    

Christmas in Chicago
Memoir Monday - Thanksgiving

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