Still A Thankful Thanksgiving.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day in the US, and despite everything going on in the States—and the world—millions of people took a moment to be thankful. 

This wonderful holiday has a special place in my heart. Like most Americans, I love the fact that it is an opportunity to get together with loved ones—without all the pressure of the gift exchange. Plus, there is none of the mega decorating projects that go with Christmas. The main reason is that it was the first holiday we celebrated when we landed here in 1999.

It was Monday, November 1, when we stepped off the plane and began our new life. Two weeks later, Monday 15th,my daughter, Alice, started school. She was in Grade 1. Two days later, she came home, full of smiles, and handed me a list. 

Candied yams with marshmallows.

The two Grade 1 classes were holding a Thanksgiving lunch, and every parent had to provide a dish. Already boggled by almost every aspect of life, I looked down the list in complete confusion.

Cranberry sauce? I’d never tasted a cranberry in my life! Guavas, granadillas, mangos, litchis, I could probably whip up a sauce from those, but cranberries? No.

Candied yams with marshmallow topping? Honestly, I thought someone had slipped that suggestion in just to see which of the mothers was paying attention. Surely, no one would top a yam (sweet potato, I assumed) with something one put on top of hot chocolate drinks. 

Green bean casserole with fried onion topping? Hang on, I always thought a casserole contained meat, but this was beans with the sort of onions I’d only ever seen on a hamburger.

As my daughter waited expectantly to see what delight I would be whipping up, I brushed away the panic and scanned the desserts. I am a great baker; maybe this was where I could shine. But there was no English Trifle or Victoria Sponge Cake. No Malva Pudding or Cape Date and Brandy Pudding.

Pumpkin Pie? Now, I make an excellent carrot cake, but pumpkins in a pie?

Pecan Pie? I couldn’t even pronounce the name of nut correctly (you say Peh-Cahn, I say Pee-Can)!

I grabbed a pen and checked off the one thing I knew I could provide: Paper Plates!

By the next year, I had it down pat. You guessed—I opted again for the paper plates.

Our own Thanksgiving meal was a copy of what we usually made for Christmas in South Africa. We did, however, buy an absolutely delicious cherry pie.

This year, Americans all over the country were asked to restrict their celebrations to their direct family. Considering more American families get together for Thanksgiving than do for Christmas, this is a huge blow.

Although there are only the four of us, and relative to other families, our Thanksgiving Day is very small and quiet, I know the feeling of having this day snatched from your life. And here’s my small piece of advice—I understand it was tough, but it was only one Thanksgiving out of—if you are blessed with good health—about 80.

In Cape Town, 2015.

In 2011, when my son (then 15) was battling Leukemia, he suddenly developed a life-threatening reaction to one of the chemotherapies. He was rushed to the ER and, after 8 hours, admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. It was November 17. The next two weeks were even more hellishly devastating than all the treatments he’d had since he was diagnosed in the February. Our daughter was at University in Connecticut, and we had planned to pick her up and bring her home for the Thanksgiving break. But, our son was so desperately ill that we couldn’t leave his bedside.

A kind friend drove up and brought her back. The four of us spent Thanksgiving in PICU. No food could be brought in due to the immune-compromised children. No visitors, games, or fun. It was just another Thursday filled with fear and worry. Some friends said how next year would be different for us, but we were more focused on getting through the next hour. We did everything possible to try to make sure there was another Thanksgiving with the four of us.

After many months, he overcame that setback and continued with his treatment until his final chemotherapy in June 2014. And, every second of every single day since then, I am thankful for his recovery. 

Yes, it is hard to have these special days stolen from us. Even as some of you read this, you may be feeling heartbroken because yesterday was nothing like any of the other Thanksgiving you have ever experienced. But, trust me, you will be able to put this behind you, and next year will be even sweeter.

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2 comments on “Still A Thankful Thanksgiving.
  1. Phyllis Bogen says:

    Dear Jane,
    How dare you interrupt my pity party! I am 92, live alone since my husband died 2 years ago and am trying to get through each day without dying of boredom. I retain a modicum of sanity by sending letters to the newspapers, many of which get printed, tangible proof that I am still here.
    In the past year, 4 of my closest friends have died. The other 4 live in Maryland and are available only by phone because of the virus which makes travel unwise. I miss the active life I had before the lockdown.
    That being said, you have shifted my focus to what I still have. I am fortunate to have good health, loving family (of which Maria is one) and congenial neighbors to pass some time with. I am able to manage financially without worry. I hope there will be fiercely competitive scrabble games in my future.
    I am thankful for my blessings and for the loving reminder from you.
    Phyllis Bogen

    • Jane Paterson says:

      Hi Phyllis. Thank you for your bright and witty comment! I’m sorry about the loss of your friends. At 92, you could teach us all lessons in resilience. Take care, here’s to a positively blistering Scrabble game in your future!

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