Friday, November 27, 2015

My First Thanksgiving

It took my parents several years to get used to Thanksgiving.

Turkeys (the bird) didn’t exist in Paris when we lived there and neither, of course, did the celebration. So when we came to the United States and were invited to a  Thanksgiving meal hosted by American friends, there were some surprises.

The first was grace, which my more-or-less agnostic family never recited, though we did have bouncy tune that went:

J’ai bien mangé  (I’ve eaten well)

J’ai bien bu (I’ve drunk well)

J’ai la peau du ventre bien tendue (The skin on my stomach is nice and taut)

Merci, petit Jésus (Thank you baby Jesus).

My dad took one bite of a sweet potato with marshmallow and blanched.  This, mind you, was a man who during World War II camped out with the Touareg tribes in North Africa, trying to persuade them to join the Allies and not the Axis. To prove his solidarity with them, he once ate the eye of a sheep.

My mother didn’t quite understand the role cranberry sauce played in the meal so the first time she encountered it, she put a bit on her plate and spooned it directly into her mouth, thinking it was a sort of American mid-meal desert. Me, I thought pumpkin pie was really disgusting and I didn’t much care for the sweet potatoes either.

The turkey was interesting, though dry.  It was difficult to conceive such a large bird could fly,
and my mother who had never cooked anything larger than a smallish chicken was certain the thing would be pink inside and inedible. She was wrong, of course, but talked about it the rest of the week. I also remember that we’d brought a rare treat to our hosts’ home, marons glacés, candied chestnuts flown in from France. The hostess gave them an odd, appraising look, smiled, and dumped them in a china bowl that she placed alongside the less popular victuals—squash, boiled cucumbers, celery sticks and stewed tomatoes. If my mother took umbrage at the slight, she didn’t show it. She had already accepted that Americans’ gustatory instincts were at best primitive. These people turned up their noses at good cheese, saucisson, blood sausage and kidneys, Beaujolais and calf’s brain. Their dislike of marons glacés was to be expected.  I saved the day by eating most of them.   

The hostess loaded us down with leftovers. When we got home, my father personally placed the marshmallow and yams at the base of the large tree in our backyard for the raccoons to find. My mother made a rather dry pâté from the turkey leavings, and croquettes from the mashed potatoes.

I got sick from all the marons glacés.

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