I’m not a born and bred American. I grew up in a country where Americans were always called — affectionately — Yanks no matter if they lives in Texas or Alaska or New York City. America was the land of opportunity…the land of plenty…a place where everything seemed possible.
England in the 70s must have been all sorts of grim. Rain. Bone chilling cold with little hope of a snowfall to get you through the long, dark winter. A recession. No central heating in homes, only a wall radiator/heater or two in every house. One car or no car families. Heavy reliance on public transportation. My grandmother was known to take the bus in to Manchester every Saturday to shop…without fail. She began her shopping trip each Saturday with a stop to pick up a large glass bottle of Lucozade (like Gatorade) and a pound of potatoes in a mesh bag. She carried the glass bottle and the bag of potatoes for the rest of the day as she shopped for clothes, household items, and other food items. Can you imagine how miserable it must have for my grandmother??
I know why my parents emigrated to the U.S. in the 70s…to get away from British weather! Once in the states, our lives changed. As a kid I remember lots about my childhood except for Thanksgiving. Did we ever celebrate Thanksgiving? I have no recollection of eating a turkey dinner or watching the Macy’s Parade. I have strong memories about Christmas, but not Thanksgiving. Perhaps, my parents decided not to celebrate this very American holiday? But, my mother always dressed my sister and I up for Halloween — a holiday not celebrated in the U.K. — so I don’t know why we didn’t “do” Thanksgiving.
As a freshman in college in the early 80s, I experienced my first Thanksgiving Dinner and the associated celebrations at the home of English friends of my parents who lived in our old town in New Jersey. My family moved back to England when I was in 6th grade.
"Freedom from Want" by Norman Rockwell, one of a four-part set of painting in the Ours...To Fight for Freedom from Want series that encouraged Americans to buy war bonds during WWII.
That Thanksgiving weekend I spent in NJ is a blur. No, not due to too much alcohol. I was freshman in college…not teetotal by any means, but I was careful about not overdoing the alcohol. I have hazy memories due to extreme exhaustion. I had spent the first few months of that first semester in college struggling with three classes with heavy reading loads and one class that was highly technical. Not much sleep was had in Schnader dorm that fall!
I barely made my train to Newark due to sleeping through my alarm. I snoozed on the journey from PA to NJ. I slept a solid 12 hours upon arriving at our friend’s house. I recall going to my host’s school (she was an administrator of a private school) for a special school-wide Thanksgiving lunch. The stuffing looked like a hockey puck! I remember my host’s son taking me to a deli for the most enormous sandwich I had ever eaten. The turkey and ham were piled about 6 plus inches high and the other toppings only added to the magnitude of the sandwich! In between naps and sleeping in and dozing on the couch, I have fond memories of sharing Thanksgiving Day dinner with my host family. This family like mine hailed from another country. This family had fully embraced all that is American about Thanksgiving.
Fast forward to the mid 80s… My parents emigrated a second time to the U.S. this time settling in Maryland. I graduated from college and joined them. Unlike the early move, this time our family adopted the Thanksgiving dinner tradition.
Thanksgiving became a part of my life once I started dating my husband. His family — while small in number — goes all out on the big day. A turkey that could feed an army. Stuffing biscuits galore. The big game on TV. Pumpkin pie. And, of course, the still mystifying to me sweet potato casserole with the marshmallows and sprinkles on top. I didn’t know whether it was a dessert or a side dish. Years later I learned that neither my FIL or MIL liked the casserole. My in laws made it for the kids. I found it very sweet. Sickly sweet.
What is your first memory of Thanksgiving?