Growing up with my mom wasn’t easy, especially in rural, coal-mining Utah. My mother was the only Asian woman in the entire town, thus meaning we were surrounded by white people (and a few Hispanics and Native Americans).
Growing up in such a predominantly white culture, I was raised to believe and practice in American holidays. My classmates at elementary school gathered with all of their relatives at a big table, carved the turkey, and watched the Macy’s parade. They had large family gatherings with turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy–the works.
Not in my house.
How My Mom Forgot Thanksgiving
A few years back, I was finally able to snag some time off work and take the long flight back home from China. After being Thanksgiving starved for almost three years, I was more than ready to pile on the turkey and stuff my face with pumpkin pie.
Although my family was very small (just the four of us), the gathering was special for me. To come home from China and actually sit together as a family and eat turkey meant that I was actually ‘home.’
It was the night before Thanksgiving and all was quiet in the house. Too quiet. Although I saw no sign of turkey or food, I had full trust in my parents that we would have a proper meal the next day. Tired from a long flight, I got conked out.
The next morning I waltzed into my kitchen, pajamas and all, and opened up the fridge to see the fixins for tonight’s dinner.
It was barren. Except for a few cans of Coke and mayonnaise.
I opened the oven. Nothing.
I searched the cupboards with desperation. No turkey.
“Mom, did you buy a turkey? Where are you hiding it?”
“No darling, I, uh, didn’t buy one,” she smiled sweetly.
“YOU DIDN’T BUY TURKEY FOR THANKSGIVING!?” I screamed in frustration. “It’s my freaking first Thanksgiving in three years and you didn’t buy a turkey? What were you thinking!?”
“Oh, I, uh, thought we could eat out.”
“Everywhere is CLOSED! It’s THANKSGIVING!”
“Chinese restaurant is open, right?”
“I JUST CAME FROM CHINA!!!!”
I stomped back to my room, slammed the door and wailed. I felt like I was 10 years old all over again.
All my life I remember begging my mother to be “normal.” I tugged on her shirt sleeve at the supermarket and urged her to buy a turkey, like all the other families. I threw pumpkin pies into the shopping cart. At 8 years old, I demanded we all gather as a family and eat at the table, like all the other kids in the American movies did. I always wondered where my strong sense of tradition came from (obviously not my family), but without my constant nagging, our family would have never experienced Thanksgiving or Christmas. Ever.
I wasn’t going to let Thanksgiving go to ruin this year.
It was already 11 AM and the grocery stores were going to close in a few hours. I stormed out of the house in an angry attempt to fix Thanksgiving. I drove to multiple supermarkets looking for a turkey, but they were all sold out. I even tried Walgreens, a drug store, in a desperate attempt to find a bird. They told me they were out. I couldn’t even find pumpkin pie. It was a disaster.
It was 5 PM and I was defeated. Eyes red and puffy from crying, I slumped through the door, too upset to even look at my mother standing in the kitchen.
Yet I glanced up and saw she was not alone. She was prepping a turkey.
“Mom!” I cried out in shock. “Where did you find a turkey!? I checked everywhere!”
“The Vietnamese Market,” she smiled sweetly.
“What?” I was baffled. “They sell turkeys? At the Vietnamese market?”
“Yeah. You no worry honey everything OK.”
I saw pumpkin pie too.
“They sold that. At the Vietnamese market.”
I was dumbfounded. I can barely find peanut butter at the Vietnamese market, much less a turkey. I bet there isn’t even a word for turkey in Vietnamese, it’s such a western thing. Still, I was impressed. My mother, seeing me so upset, really pulled through for me. I was touched.
“I can’t believe you two found a turkey at the Vietnamese market,” I said to my father. “Do they really sell them there?”
“To be honest with you, I think she bought it off some lady. Begged with her. The pumpkin pie too,” my dad laughed.
“What!?” I screamed again. “How!?”
“I didn’t see any turkeys at the store, but mom went up to the cashier and spoke some Vietnamese. I don’t know what happened, but the next thing I know the woman walks out of the back office with a defrosted turkey and pie.”
“Oh my god,” my brother chimed in as he overhead the conversation. “We stole someone else’s Thanksgiving!”
“Don’t say that!” I was awash with guilt. “Maybe… just maybe she had another turkey and pie?”
“Yeah right Mary,” my brother rebuked. “Like someone just has an extra defrosted turkey lying around.”
“I’m sure she did!” anything to wipe my conscious clean. “Anyway, let’s enjoy dinner. What’s done is done.”
Because we didn’t get the turkey until 3 PM, it took a good few hours to cook and prepare it. We ended up eating dinner at 11 PM.
“I’m sure we’re the only family eating Thanksgiving dinner at 11 PM,” my brother whined.
But I was happy as a clam, because I had turkey. And pumpkin pie. And…
“Ew, I can’t believe you eat rice with your turkey, Mary!” My brother grimaced from across the table.
While my brother and father heaped on the potatoes and stuffing, my mother and I put more rice on our plates.
I guess I inherited some of my mother’s craziness after all.
Who Needs a Turkey?
Although I was very adamant about having a “traditional” Thanksgiving when I returned back to the states, I truly believe that you don’t need turkey, gravy, cranberries or even pumpkin pie to have a proper Thanksgiving. All you need is friends, a table, a home cooked meal, and gratitude for having wonderful people in your life, ready and welcome to share dinner with you.
When I lived abroad, it was almost impossible to go home for Thanksgiving so I usually made do with some KFC, beer, and a few friends. In Shanghai, I found a new family… my family abroad. We didn’t have turkey. We didn’t even have pumpkin pie. Yet we had each other, and that was more than enough for me.
So here’s to hoping that your mother, father, or even your husband or wife doesn’t forget Thanksgiving (like my mom). I hope everyone around the world, even those that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, have a wonderful meal with friends and family on this very special Thursday, November 26th.