Our Spanish villa is abuzz with excited energy. Josiah is sweeping our glazed terracotta veranda. Hannah is wiping up the table and clearing breakfast dishes. Jeremiah keeps peeking into the fridge to make sure my pumpkin pies are still there. Hadassah is busily coloring a card ”for Mama” with lots of secrets and pleadings that I do not peek. Julia is helping to feed Hosea. Joshua and Hosanna are knocking around a soccer ball. Jeriah, our baby-man, is sleeping peacefully with a fan blowing near. Fresh rays of sunshine beam down upon him through the large window in our cheery bedroom.
Life is good, and we have so many reasons to give thanks. So, on this bright day at the end of May, we are celebrating American Thanksgiving–complete with turkey, stuffing and all the fixins– exactly six months early. What’s a date anyway?
Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday since I was a little girl. I am sure the excitement began as a result of both my grandfather and me sharing a special connection. We were each born on Thanksgiving Day, November 28th. As a child, he and I always celebrated our birthday surrounded by most of my extended family. We would gather at my grandparents’ Virginia farm on the James River. Following the Thanksgiving feast, we would race to blow out our candles with a ONE-TWO-BLOW!
Eight years ago in the Philippines, I was only days away from delivering Hadassah. Our family was establishing new traditions. It was the first Thanksgiving in our marriage without being with my extended family. I had a little touch of homesickness and a LOT of culture shock. It was at least 175 degrees in the shade, I think. The six other children were ages seven and under: three in diapers; one potty training.
Thanksgiving arrived. Despite having brown outs (repeated on-again-off-again power outages) and no oven in our tiny home, we were determined to celebrate it. Two days later we would be moving to a spacious farm house, but none of that deterred us from creating a Thanksgiving meal.
Brent and the children fully surprised me with a cute cake made at the local bakery. They drew a turkey, and the baker (despite his unfamiliarity with the North American bird) tried to copy it. Since I had no turkey or oven, we hired our driver to drive across town and purchase some Filipino chicken adobo (marinated in soy sauce and vinegar). I rinsed off the poor chicken and reheated it making a Southern chicken gravy to turn that bird into a Virginia Turkey.
I managed to find a calabasa (a Filipino squash) , the closest thing to a pumpkin we could find in Metro Manila. It did double duty as pie filling and as a sweet potato casserole. Underneath that brown sugar, honey, pecans and marshmallows, no one knew the difference. I used green mangoes and created hot “apple sauce”. I delightedly found real potatoes, mashed them and poured brown butter on top. The Filipino sitaw was the nearest equivalent for green beans, a foot long and thinner. I cut them to size for Southern green beans, and we were in business.
We covered our shipping containers with a Thanksgiving tablecloth, one we have used every year of our married life.
About eight months later, we were in Baguio, the mountainous vacation capital of the Philippines. Decades of unchecked growth left the city disappointingly crowded and polluted. Roaring jeepneys spewed diesel smoke through the narrow, hilly streets. Typhoon season had hit with a vengeance, bringing constant rain.
One unforgettable discovery brightened our outlook. We found a store that had formerly catered to the nearly non-existent American military presence. We were elated.
Up front, they sold balut, a cooked-in-shell duck embryo, a well-known delicacy. In the back, they sold frozen turkeys. Fat ones. They had cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and everything an American could dream of for a real Thanksgiving. We took the plunge and decided to buy it all while we could.
We went back to our vacation cottage situated on a quiet and green hill and created an unforgettable, dreamy family Thanksgiving in July. It was chilly enough in the mountains that we even lit a fire in the fireplace. We had a wonderful family day.
Last November, we flat out missed Thanksgiving. We could have paid $30 US per person to go and eat Thanksgiving with a bunch of expats down at the beach club. But $30 per person?!
I had already accepted the reality that turkeys were not being sold anywhere in Manzanillo. A chicken would be fine. I was traveling with one can of cranberry sauce I stowed away last year. The well-stocked small store across the street promised that a supply of canned pumpkin was going to be arriving the following week. Good news. What is Thanksgiving without a pumpkin pie? We could wait a week and celebrate then.
The week came and went, but the promised pumpkin did not arrive. Three more days, the owner assured. Three days later, we were told that the pumpkin was coming, but it was on the truck scheduled for next week. We had already waited ten days, another week would not matter.
We waited. No pumpkin. No pumpkin ever came, not the following week either. By then, Christmas was arriving and we realized that Thanksgiving was missed for want of a pie. Well, a pie and a turkey.
Today, in the month of May, our little family of eleven celebrates Thanksgiving in our villa here in Jocotepec, Mexico. We celebrate because today we can. That’s one of the lessons we have learned on the road. The Lake Chapala area of Mexico is home to over 25,000 North Americans and Canadians. Here, thanks to enterprising local Mexican stores like Super Lake, we have access to all that Americans wish for.
We found a turkey, canned pumpkin, stuffing ingredients, cranberry sauce, apples, olives, sweet potatoes, and cauliflower (mashed cauliflower is our new preference to mashed potatoes). We also found Häagen-Daz vanilla bean ice cream to top off the pies.
Turkey, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and (especially) cranberry sauce are most definitely NOT easily available around the world. I mean, face it, cranberry sauce really does not blend in with Filipino pansit, pad thai, or street vendor tacos. It’s strictly a North American acquired taste.
Today I am cookin’ up a storm. The tables are adorned with country vases (Southern for any empty glass bottle) filled with handpicked, tropical flowers. My pies are making the house smell heavenly. The children keep asking for ”just one” more small taste of ice cream.
Sweet potatoes are adorned, the stuffin’ fixins are chopped and the sausage is scrambled. I always toss in a few chopped boiled eggs into my stuffin’ ‘cuz that’s how my grandmother (Nannie) did hers. Of course, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. My green beans are simmering with small bit of tomatoes and plenty of bacon; bacon is what makes ém so good. I won’t be serving greens (collard and turnip greens) this year, but with all of this food they won’t be missed.
I have cranberry sauce chillin’ in the fridge beside the butter I shaped into a turkey. That will be sopped up with hot-from-the-oven poppy seed dinner rolls. A pretty bird is ready to be lifted from the oven. It’s a turkey; a real turkey. An actual turkey… and that’s why we are having this year’s Thanksgiving celebration in May.
It doesn’t get better than this.
Now that our family has observed Thanksgiving for the year, we will likely be off snorkeling come November or hiking in the Amazon while the rest of our American friends are just pulling autumn dishes from an oven.
Happy Thanksgiving from the Inion crew–wherever and whenever you may be celebrating!