Friday 27 November 2020

A Taste Of Thanksgiving


Pumpkin Army
Yoyai Kusama, 2014

My first trip to America was in 1993 to spend Thanksgiving with a friend in Chicago. I was living in London so a trip across the Atlantic for the weekend was almost unremarkable before the term Carbon Footprint was coined. Indeed, the era of cheap flights was upon us and one could pour over the weekend-getaway price lists in the newspaper every week, listed from Amsterdam to Zurich, and dream* of seeing more of the world between shifts at the (Banking) coalface.

Bobby was one of a tribe of Americans, stockbrokers mostly from Chicago, who'd spent time in Australia in the 1980s and 90s, working in their Sydney branches and where we'd become friends. When I moved to London, the opportunity to meet him for a proper American experience arose when he moved back home.

Thanksgiving, at his parents' house, was as though all the TV-fodder of my youth had come to life in one lurid, noisy, technicolour day and ol' Pipistrello, used mostly to neat and compact family affairs, had a full immersion experience of a boisterous and jolly Irish-Catholic family having one of theirs.

I remember his mum in a ruffled apron in the kitchen with some of the ladies putting the last touches together, where I beheld the marvel of the gigantic enamelled oven, big enough for the annual turkey to fit with no complaint. A buffet feast was laid out and to the attendant din of lots of kids running about, sampled an extraordinary array of familiar foods put together in rather surprising combinations. 

The two dozen or so revellers didn't even make a dent in the otherwise recognisable bird, so massive was it, as room was needed to be made for the likes of marshmallow salad and mashed sweet potato with nuggets of candied brown sugar and, of course, the near-mythical pumpkin pie, before following it all with dessert. Fortunately, the bracing, autumnal Chicago clime made short work of the resulting sugar-rush and no lasting harm was done.

Happy Thanksgiving for any Dear Reader in America, and I hope that even if you couldn't have a typical celebration, you could look back fondly on any previous reminiscences.

* I say dream, as most times the siren call of domestic chores and London pleasures was enough for weekend relaxation. 

Image credit: Sotheby's


  1. My only experience of an American Thanksgiving meal was in Grand Cayman. My friend had a HUGE beachside house, where the main living room was like an airport lounge. The dining table occupied just one little corner on the opposite side from the kitchen, so the kitchen staff had to walk a huge distance to bring everything to table. I also remember that the ceiling was painted like wispy clouds. I'm afraid it was all very vulgar!

  2. Cro: I imagine the feast was similarly OTT! My only Caribbean experience was staying at a friend's place in Anguilla and apart from plantains, I don't think there was much fresh food to be had that wasn't imported and expensive and it'd no doubt be hard to rustle up all the Thanksgiving trimmings easily. But where there are $$ there's a way!

  3. Except in special cases, I don't know any adult children who moved very far away from their parents' home, after marriage, babies and careers. But in the USA, most people seem to leave their home town during university, and don't seem to go back. I asked my American friends why Thanksgiving is soooo important, and clearly it was because they want to spend the precious 3-day weekend with their families.

    Don't do it during Covid, my friends. Next year will be a family pleasure again, hopefully.

  4. Hels: It must be certain industries that fling people around the globe more readily, and certainly it's easier when you're young and single and one's parents are independent and full of vim. But it's also an easy decision to move back when "home" is a big city, as such a huge proportion of Australians have. And yes, the "planes, trains and automobiles" phenomenon of American Thanksgiving is quite something.

  5. During the many years I was single and childless I would volunteer to work Christmas so others could be with their families. But I claimed Thanksgiving and would trot back to the Midwest for the feast. Always too much food that was too heavy, with gazillions of people everywhere.
    I have hosted Thanksgivings over here, but always as a sit-down affair rather than the plates-on-knees-wherever-you-can-find-a-spot-to-sit buffets of my family. Turkey in France is tastier because it isn't industrially raised, but must be ordered well in advance--the French have their turkey on Christmas, and in November the birds are still little.
    Most Americans don't move, actually. Why did I? Well, have you been to the Midwest?

  6. ToF: I guess that having two opportunities for having a family affair so close to one another, choices can be made, but how good of you to work at Christmas. Depending where and what you would be doing, the day could probably be a right snooze! ... Whole (frozen) turkeys are hard to find outside Christmas here, except for pressed turkey meat as a deli item for school sandwiches, and I can affirm that I've never cooked one in my life. And yet I have a vague recollection of seeing a fenced yard of gobbling turkeys as a kid in some urban space but that seems weirdly dream-like if I poke at the memory, so maybe I didn't.

  7. ToF: Oh, isn't Chicago Midwest? My brief forays there have been terrific!

  8. Chicago is a big city. Interesting.
    I grew up in a smaller city that was not interesting in the least.
    There was a vicious pack of wild turkeys running in the park near my parents' house. Not to be tangled with. The park otherwise was for drug deals and prostitution, so it wasn't a place to walk even without threats from turkeys.

  9. ToF: The turkeys sound positively terrifying! The rest of the wildlife ... I get the picture. It sounds like you plumped for the best deal where you are today :)

  10. Nicely told. Your comments on travelling before thoughts of carbon footprint, and also thinking of today's Covid world, made me marvel at the memory of how a few times I flew from Scotland to Boston just for the weekend for a publisher's meeting: Depart Friday morning, two nights in the Marriot then back home on Sunday. Another life in a different world. I am not allowed to travel out of my small county this weekend.

  11. Andrew: And the aeroplane to Boston would have been full of weekend trippers. Those memories of trans-Atlantic jaunts are truly marvellous in hindsight. Your weekend confinement could never have been dreamt of once, either. As you say, the world has changed.

  12. I have never experienced an American Thanksgiving but your description fits exactly how I would imagine it to be. Loads of food, fun and lots of people milling around.
    I love the Pumpkin Army by Yoyai Kusama - I looked it up and found that you can even buy cushion covers and facemask in the same design.

  13. Rosemary: Her pumpkins are very merry. I'd say investing in a face mask is a terribly reasonable way to own a piece of her art. Pumpkin Army sold for HK$25 million at Sotheby's!

  14. I agree with 'Taste of France' about our Turkeys. Unlike the UK ones, they are bred naturally, and rarely weigh more than 5 kilos. They are always delicious and moist. The French tend to eat 'Capons' at Christmas, so the Turkey is best ordered in advance.

  15. Cro: I read somewhere about a place in Central America that farmed turkeys for the American market, the birds bred to be basically all breast with puny little drumsticks that the locals kept for their own table ... I was shopping today and in the poultry section at my local there's still no sign of turkey. There's duck and even quail today in addition to the ubiquitous chicken, but there's less than a month to go to Xmas so I suspect the supermarket freezer is where these birds are eventually found.

  16. THANK YOU!
    I keep forgetting YOU LIVED in LONDON!
    I just received a TEXT from a dear friend who is informing me that KATHERINE or is it CATHERINE looks to be getting BOTOX and or FILLERS in her forehead!I said which KATHERINE which resulted is an ALL CAPS RESPONSE!
    These ways to communicate sure can put a quick smile on our faces!
    Off to check out the DIFFERENCE!


  17. Contessa: Oh, I hadn't looked close enough to verify. So young for that malarky! She'll find it a slippery slope, if not careful. xx

  18. I am thankful to have met you this week.

  19. Ur-spo: How kind you are! It's a treat to be on the receiving end of another's giving of thanks.


Thank you for commenting, it is greatly appreciated.

It can be a challenge to persist in the matching up of street signs and other exciting pastimes this comment feature may send your way, so if it gets too annoying, feel free to email your comment to me at pipistrello (at) flyingwithhands (dot) com and I'll post it for you.

Bats In The Belfry