Thanksgiving Across the Pond
The vision of pale pink, sky blue, and mint-green mini-marshmallows melted over our sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner was more than I could bear. So I grudgingly paid the 3.50 ($5) for the bootlegged bag of pure white Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows. Was I nuts? I had also just spent a king's ransom on two bags of Pepperidge Farm Stuffing Mix - all in the name of tradition!
I wasn't nuts. I was just in England.
Our family had moved to London only two months earlier. My husband was busy in his new job, my children in their new school, and our dog in quarantine. I, on the other hand, was still trying to sort out the basic issues of life: driving, shopping, cooking, fixing up the house - on the wrong side of the street, with new coins, new weights and measures ... and everything with a new name. Suddenly, Thanksgiving was upon us, and I wanted to make it as familiar as I could for my family, who had just been through so much sudden change.
I already knew it would be a somewhat unusual Thanksgiving: There was no vacation from school or office. I would be the only one at home. There'd be no football games, no Macy's parade. There'd be no little faces huddled around the sink to giggle and gag as I removed the bag of giblets from inside the turkey. No one to help me pop the pearl onions out of their skins. And no one to enjoy the buttery fragrance of the roasting bird, which escaped from the oven while I basted it all afternoon.
I set out to make the holiday as traditional and enjoyable as possible under the circumstances. The turkey was no problem. Britons eat turkey all year long. And potatoes are potatoes.
It was all the little things, the American things. Things like the marshmallows and the stuffing. Money solved some of those problems, but not all of them.
Cranberry sauce became my passion and my lesson. I looked in stores that carried food and stores that didn't. Traditional stores and modern ones. Superstores and corner markets. But nowhere could I find a single can of Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce. I began to fantasize about the way it looked after it slid out of the can and onto the serving dish, the ridges of the can still imprinted on the sides of the shiny red gelatin.
When I finally found some semblance of cranberry sauce, I bought a jar for a taste test and trial run. And run it did - all over the plate after I attempted to unmold it by running warm water over the glass container in which it came.
OK, so we'd dish out the cranberry sauce like grape jelly. It wouldn't be so bad, and it might even be amusing to the kids.
ONCE I had resolved to cherish the differences in this Thanksgiving, new opportunities presented themselves to me. We tried a different pie. We ate a little later. We included friends and strangers.
The highlight was a lunchtime Thanksgiving service being given at St. Paul's Cathedral in downtown London. When I suggested to my husband that he take his lunch hour to join me there, he joyously agreed.
I met him on the steps. He got out of a cab, mobile phone still at his ear, wrapping up a last-minute business call. When we entered the immense sanctuary, we were astounded. There must have been 3,000 people already seated.
We found two seats off to the side and sat enthralled for an hour while messages of gratitude and thanksgiving were expressed, choral music performed, and hymns sung. This inspiring venue had been offered to the Americans out of gratitude for our country's assistance in protecting Britain during World War II.
When the colors were retired down the length of the nave and the ambassador had passed by, we all joined in singing "America the Beautiful." Never has a song seemed more meaningful or appropriate. It was an unusual Thanksgiving, but traditional in the most important way: We were so grateful to be able to be grateful.