Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. Until we moved back to the U.S.
Ironic, isn’t it, that I enjoyed this very American holiday more when we lived overseas. I used to know what to do on Thanksgiving. We would be with our expatriate teammates. We would go to great lengths to make an incredible meal. We would sweat buckets in the tropical heat, and still manage to dress up and set a beautiful table for our feast. The power might go out, but we would still laugh, stuff ourselves, play games and try to eat the Jell-O salad before it melted off our plates.
I was always amazed at the spread we were able to produce, given we lived in such an isolated place. Our holidays in Indonesia seemed more special because of the often-Herculean effort it took to make them special. Everything was 100% homemade. We boiled a local variety of squash for pumpkin pies, made white sauces from powdered milk for casseroles and baked rolls from scratch. And many of our years there, we would manage to procure a turkey.
It wasn’t always a given that we would find one since turkeys are not widely eaten in Indonesia. Chickens are, though, and there were several years when we had Thanksgiving chicken. It seemed like the longer we were in Indonesia, the harder it was to find turkeys and the more expensive they got. One of the last ones we bought cost us $100.
Yes. You read that right. $100. When you are far from home and miss your familiar traditions, you sometimes do crazy things like pay $100 for a frozen turkey. But oh, how priceless that turkey was, how we savored each bite.
Some of our Indonesian friends were curious about American Thanksgiving and asked to try our acclaimed turkey. One of my friends, one of those tell-it-like-it-is friends, took a bite and declared, “It’s too dry. Too much meat. It needs hot chili sauce!”
When we moved back to the U.S., a friend who had recently repatriated warned me that holidays might feel weird for a while. And for us and our kids, Thanksgiving feels the weirdest. We don’t yet have any traditions established in the U.S. and this year, with COVID, it seems like everyone’s Thanksgivings will be a little weird.
Even though it’s our third Thanksgiving back in America, it’s the first year I’ve needed to procure a turkey for us. The first year we were with friends, and last year my parents were here and took care of the turkey.
When I saw a poster at WinCo advertising a free turkey for $100 spent, I decided to go for it. I love WinCo and can easily drop $100, so as I wandered the aisles and filled my buggy (southern speak for shopping cart), I imagined the savings I would get on this turkey. Don’t they cost like $30, at least? I didn’t know for sure, but was feeling good about this bargain coming my way. A free turkey!
When I got to the checkout, I asked the cashier about the turkey. Details sometimes elude me, and apparently I was supposed to have picked up the turkey in the meat section and include it with my purchase.
I hurried back to the meat section and was confronted with a freezer full of frozen Jenni-O’s. I wanted to cry and laugh, thinking of all the years we wished for a turkey, strategized on how to track one down and then spent ridiculous amounts of money to buy it. And here I was, faced with a freezer case full of “free” turkeys.
I reached in the freezer, snagged a turkey and cradled it for a moment while thinking the word “precious” — only, I had just finished re-watching the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy with my daughter, so in my mind I heard Gollum saying, “My Preciousssss.” I jogged back to the checkout with my frozen freebie and plunked it on the conveyor belt.
“OK,” the cashier said after weighing the bird. “You saved $9.16!” She smiled at me brightly (well, I imagine she did; it was hard to tell with the mask and all). I raised my eyebrows in a fake smile to cover my shock and disappointment.
$9.16. Really? That’s it? I looked down at the bird, and thought, you’re not so precioussss after all. Doesn’t a regular chicken cost about that much? We are semi-vegetarian so I’m not really tracking with poultry prices. And of course I’m comparing it to the last turkey I bought in Indonesia. Crazy to think I could have bought 10 turkeys at WinCo for the price of one in Indonesia.
I used to marvel at a turkey because it was so expensive. Now I marvel because it’s so cheap.
Cheap or not, here’s to making this Thanksgiving as “normal” as possible. I may turn up the heat to sweat a little, make a powdered milk white sauce, melt some Jell-O and connect with friends over FaceTime to laugh and reminisce.