Thanksgiving and the holidays are the most difficult time to be away from the United States, says my my coworker Laura Raynaud, a fellow American who’s been living in Toulouse for 12 years now. These celebrations, charged with family traditions, make your heart ache more nostalgically than ever. While your friends and family back home are busy baking pies, cooking the big bird, and sharing their robust dinner with their loved ones around a candlelit table, you’re thousands of miles away, working your regular hours and reading Facebook updates and newspaper articles about everyone’s habitual Thanksgiving activities. Needless to say, you can’t avoid a sense of longing, bordering on regret for having left your country in the first place.
But I’m incredibly lucky. I was able to spend Thanksgiving with some of the most important people in my life at the moment: my French friends. I had given up on the idea of cooking Thanksgiving at my place: too difficult to pull off with a full work schedule, and knowing that I was going to Dorian’s parents’ place to celebrate his birthday Saturday night (the night before I was planning my Thanksgiving luncheon). It was a sad prospect, but probably for the best, as it would have caused me too much stress and wouldn’t have felt complete. Having abandoned that thought and settled for Skyping with my parents on the big day, I stumbled upon a retrospectively evident solution. On Wednesday, I was sitting with Dorian, Marc and Rosy in a tea room (duh), discussing what we were going to do for Dorian’s birthday dinner on Saturday…and all of the sudden, everything clicked into place. Why not do it at his parents’ place? A few phone calls and ingredient lists later, we had roped Dorian’s mother, Chantal, into the deal, and we were left scrambling to find a turkey.
In the end, Chantal wasn’t able to find a turkey on such short notice, but she worked magic nonetheless. Upon our arrival in Moissac on Saturday afternoon, Rosy and I, the token Americans, picked out the necessary food ingredients at Chantal’s organic store and once back at the house, everyone settled into a cooking frenzy. As Dorian and Marc set up the sleeping quarters for the night – 4 mattresses squished together in a row – Rosy and I scrambled to put together a meal worthy of Thanksgiving standards and of Dorian’s birthday bash, learning scrupulously from Chantal, the leader of the project. Eventually Laury and Leslie arrived and our party was complete. With everyone working together towards a common goal, in a spacious, warm and welcoming kitchen, and thanks to the house’s three ovens and extensive cooking equipment, we were able to pull together a complete, traditional Thanksgiving meal. Mashed potatoes (not too mashed, with plenty of skins!), sweet potatoes, green beans with almonds, roast duck with delicious stuffing (who needs turkey?), homemade cranberry sauce, homemade cornbread (so. good.), butternut instead of pumpkin pie, apple pie. Stick a few candles into the butternut pie and you have a birthday cake for Dorian! After dinner, we waddled around the kitchen with our food babies, washing the many dishes we’d used for our copious meal, and we eventually retired to the living room, where we watched the Lion King in English with Greek subtitles. Our crash and burn on our four-mattress friend nest concluded the perfect day.
Although it can’t substitute completely for spending time with my parents and with the melting pot of families we normally celebrate Thanksgiving with, I can still find that feeling of warmth that Thanksgiving gives me, the fuzzy sensation of love, friendship and laborious digestion.
So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my friends, who mean the world to me and who make my time in France, away from my culture and family, worthwhile and rich.