How My Vietnamese Mom Forgot Thanksgiving

turkey

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.’

Utah, my home!

Utah, my 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.”

“Uh-huh.”

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.

thanksgiving1

Thanksgiving in Shanghai in 2013. There’s no turkey–but that’s ok!

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.

16 thoughts on “How My Vietnamese Mom Forgot Thanksgiving

  1. autumnashbough says:

    “We stole someone else’s Thanksgiving!” ROTFLMAO.

    Actually, I think it’s more like someone else, seeing your mother’s desperation, gifted you their Thanksgiving. 🙂 Which is so sweet!

    What a great story. There’s nothing a good mom won’t do for her little girl. Sniff.

    Stop putting me through the ringer, woman.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Marta says:

    Your mom is a superhero! She saved the day, haha.

    We don’t have Thanksgiving in Spain so yesterday it was a normal day for me. However I did cook something new for C. Grilled salmon, which he proceeded to cover in sesame sauce as he thinks Spanish food is too bland (we don’t add so many spices and sauces as in China, if I eat salmon I want to taste the flavour of the salmon!!).

    • rubymary says:

      Haha even though she forgot the holiday, it is true, she did save the day.

      Mmmm!! Grilled salmon!! That sounds amazing! Haha, I love how he covered it in sesame seed, that’s such a Chinese thing to do. My boyfriend will also add more sauce and different flavors to the food I cook.

      Spanish food is not bland! It’s sooo gooood!!!! Paella all the way!

  3. Monica says:

    Thankfully, we celebrated Thanksgiving at the kindergarten where I work. We had turkey and some of us made stuffing, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese. They also had pumpkin pie from Costco. It was nice to get a taste of home while being in Korea, but when my fiance got home from work, I told him it was Thanksgiving, and he was like, “Oh, I don’t really know what it is so I didn’t know it was a big deal.” Ugh… next year, maybe we can celebrate it together. Your story was hilarious and it sounds like your mom was really going to feel guilty if she couldn’t give you a real Thanksgiving dinner.

    • rubymary says:

      Oh wow you were able to get turkey in Korea!? That’s amazing!!! And pumpkin pie from Costco!! I remember in China that was the most difficult thing to find… I was going to attempt to make pumpkin pie, but the can filling was a ridiculous price, like 20 bucks or something.

      Yeah my Chinese boyfriend, despite growing up in the United States since high school, doesn’t really care much for Thanksgiving either. I guess unless you grow up with it, you can’t really appreciate just how special the holiday is.

      Thanks for the comment! 😀

  4. Eileen黃愛玲 says:

    Your mom is amazing. I never cared for the traditional Thanksgiving meal despite I grew up with it…not my cup of tea. My husband and I just ended up getting Bangladesh food. I had the spicy spinach chicken….close enough. 😉

  5. yueni says:

    We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in my family, but my first Christmas back from China with my family, we had hotpot for Christmas.

    Apparently while I was gone, my sister had turned hotpot into a family tradition. =| All I wanted was honey glazed ham for Christmas, dammit! Hotpot I could’ve gotten any time while I was in China!

    • rubymary says:

      My student worker (from Hong Kong) also had hot pot on Christmas and Thanksgiving…. sounds good, actually!

      I hear ya. While I wasn’t diehard about Thanksgiving, I think the fact that my mom offered me Chinese food when I got back from China was frustrating, haha. The longer I’m away from America, the more I appreciate and miss American things like Turkey and Christmas and Pumpkin pie.

      Man, this strangely makes me want to eat hotpot.

      • yueni says:

        Seriously. I was never a big fan of Mexican food, but for whatever reason, when I was in China, I would crave a really good burrito or arroz con pollo or huevos rancheros… That Christmas, I just wanted less of the Chinese stuff and more of the glazed ham and mashed potatoes!

        I actually had hotpot with friends this Thanksgiving too! It was homemade and delicious.

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