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LET’S TALK TURKEY

de (28-11-2010)

Thanksgiving Day turkey, that is.  With stuffing or dressing (it matters not what you call it) this is the way we celebrate our early heritage in the U. S., complete with all the fixings fit for a very hungry crowd.  This banquet of the harvest goes back to 1621 when Plymouth, Massachusetts played host to the native indians and the pilgrims from England who came to my old home ofNew England on the Mayflower.  You all know that story, though.  The story that you don’t know is that all of us, we Americans, have different ways of noting this special day.  With or without peas, golden roasted like grandma’s or fried as we like to eat it in the South,  that center of attention, the juicy, crispy, delectably delicious main dish is the star attraction at the table, which in my family was always bountiful, beautifully decorated and abundantly blessed with fruits, nuts, vegetables and sweets galore.  Feasts and a whole day of rest and recumbance…ahhhh, that’s the ticket!

Now I’m here in Peace Corps Romania and have the privilege of seeing real live turkeys on farms all throughout the countryside.  My neighbors rear them and care for them each day, as they are an essential part of the day to day life of putting food on the table.  It’s very different than picking them up in the grocery store with those little plastic thermometers sticking out of their nice, plump bellies. You can’t spy on them chatting with each other in turkey-speak or see them run through the leaves or hear the wind rustle through their feathers.  Oh no.  None of that.  It’s an oddity for us in the U.S. as it is after all not the way we do things everywhere.  Instead it’s:  Check the sale paper, plan the menu, look for the biggest, boldest and most ostentatious bird that you can afford.  Thaw it out in the kitchen sink and fight over the wishbone when it’s all said and done.

That’s what we did and that’s what most families still do.  But village life being as it is, well, the supermarket is a long haul away and why get frozen when you can have fresh, right?  Last year, I cooked the first Thanksgiving meal which my gazda/host family ever had with turkey that came from the backyard.  Although it was for me a kind of strange thing to one day be feeding them all their cornmeal and the next seeing 5 sets of feet in a stainless steel bowl right beside those hordes of feathers, well, it still was tastier than I’ve ever had.

And so it goes.  We learn, we experience, we change, we share here in the Peace Corps as volunteers have always done.  And we are the better for it because we pass on our observations and this new and different cultural knowledge to people all around the world.  We understand and we can see the why and the wherefore usually up close and very personal.

On this holiday of gluttony and graces, I am having dinner with my newest colleagues in town and there will (as is my custom-passed on by my parents and grandparents) be that staple, the tantalizing Tom turkey. A truly international way of spreading the love and good cheer on the threshold of the Christmas season.  Along with boats of gravy, I’ll have sweet potatoes from Germany, fennel and celery from Italy, chestnuts from China, pomegranates from Greece, dates from Turkey, and all the rest from the gardens and farms of this wonderfully rich countryside of Romania.  All except the turkey.

This year I went all the way to the Kaufland’s in the city and bought myself a modest frozen one from France.  I’d been there and done that and it seemed only right that I renewed one of my own traditions on Thanksgiving.  My new friends nonetheless will be satisfied, I will be happy to share with them a most important occasion, there won’t be any sighing, and once again, there’ll be thanks and seconds all around.

As for any of the other turkeys here, I’m not sure where they are this year, but in my mind, I’d like to think that they were still outside by the apple trees, jumping on fences, and having a „high old time” even after Thanksgiving Day.  As I see it, I don’t think they’d enjoy France anyway…pomme frittes in lieu of mashed potatoes and all. Those turkeys can be so pretentious, really.  Just like some of us on Thanksgiving.  Even though we’re good at saying how thankful we are for so much, we sometimes forget the simplicities and the realities of life.  Like how meat comes to the table.  Like how much we rely on our amenities growing up in America.  How much we sometimes indulge no matter what the cost.

I’d like to think that somewhere, somehow, someway, we’d all take a moment to give thanks to the animals and to the earth on which we live, both of which provide for us so very much.  Sometimes we do forget our manners.  Heck, a truly honest prayer of thanks for Thanksgiving along with remembering how much we all need each other and have reasons to be grateful each and every day.    A rare bird, indeed.

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