#Thanksgiving Blues


Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday.  Free of commercialism, gift buying frenzies and hype, #Thanksgiving was the simple lull before the Christmas juggernaut.   Mom and my grandmothers had it down to a science.  When the family settled down to turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, brussel sprouts and cranberry, there were no ulcers or hurt feelings.  Gravy splatters on the linen tablecloth were the extent of calamity.

Each year I yearn for that simpler time… but it no longer exists.  I’m not a child any longer, a passive #Thanksgiving celebrant whose only job is to show up at the table and eat.  As an adult, I have responsibilities.

This Thanksgiving was our first in Brussels, our home since January of this year.  Of course, in Brussels the day is just another Thursday.  Turkey meat, called dinde in French, is practically non-existent on Belgian menus or grocery store meat cases.   And we have no family here in Europe other than our Golden Retriever, Sadie.  We’ve suffered from bouts of loneliness since our arrival.  So it was with great jubilation that we received an invitation for a real Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey and all the trimmings.  Jim’s former boss and his wife invited us to their home in Stuttgart, a five hour drive from Brussels.  And in addition, being dog lovers themselves, Sadie was invited.  Not only would our Thanksgiving be a festive holiday, our little expat family unit would remain intact!

But responsibility, that albatross that hangs around the neck of every mature adult, reared its ugly head.  Our dear Sadie, ten years young, has had a cyst on her leg.  In the past couple of months, it has grown and become more unsightly.  A new Vet recommended immediate removal.  He scheduled the procedure for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  We still planned to drive to Stuttgart on Thursday.

Every pet owner knows the sinking feeling of dropping their beloved four-legged friend off for a surgical procedure.  Although the Vet was personable and spoke decent English, we were a bit skittish.  As Americans, we’d heard of the horrors of Western Europe’s socialized medicine.  If they did ‘that’ to people, what would they do for pets?  But our fears were unfounded.  The procedure went well and we brought a groggy Sadie home.  A four-inch incision, stitched up as tight as Mom’s Thanksgiving turkey, kept Sadie nearly immobile.  She wasn’t capable of taking the stairs to our bedroom where she sleeps.  So we camped out in the dining room.  On Wednesday night, we moved to the living room, only slightly more comfortable than a hard floor.  Would Sadie mend well enough for the Thursday morning drive?

Sadie in Sick bay

Sadie in Sick bay

I think I knew the answer when I went to bed on Wednesday night on a lumpy portable mattress, a few feet from Sadie.  But I left it up to Jim to say what I knew.  We couldn’t subject our dear, Sadie to a five hour drive and a house filled with people and another dog.  When we’re sick. we only want to be in our own home.  While deep down I knew it was the right answer, I found it hard to accept. Depression, a frequent companion in our new country, crept back and took hold.  I was mad at the situation.

Temporary Bed

Temporary Bed

 

In Solidarity With Sadie

In Solidarity With Sadie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My funk lingered. I wasn’t mad at anyone and certainly not angry with Sadie.  My hopes for an old-fashioned Thanksgiving were dashed.  But responsibility also has its benefits–rationalization, perspective and recovery.  Jim booked a table at a romantic restaurant for dinner, #L’Auberge’in.  Instead of turkey, Jim had lamb chops and I had sea bass.  For dessert, creme brûlée and ice cream topped with merengue and raspberry sauce replaced pumpkin pie. The meal was a gastronomic delight.   Sadie continued to recover and my funk lifted.

Jim, Thanksgiving 2014

Jim, Thanksgiving 2014

 

 

 

 

 

Todd at Thanksgiving Dinner 2014

Todd at Thanksgiving Dinner 2014 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Friday when most Americans gorged on door-busters, Jim and I bought our Christmas tree, a tradition that goes back sixteen years to our first Christmas together.  But one American tradition, that of carrying the tree home on top of the car must be uncommon here in Belgium.  People looked, pointed and snickered at the tree as we drove the eight miles from nursery to home.

Carrying our Christmas Tree Home

Carrying our Christmas Tree Home

Jim and Our Tree

Jim and Our Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And on Saturday, we decorated the tree with ornaments from home, each with a special story of our Christmases together.  Our tradition includes pizza and watching Elf and The Grinch who Stole Christmas.  And as is Sadie’s tradition, she lays on the floor underfoot.  The tree took form

#Brussels Christmas Tree

#Brussels Christmas Tree

 

 

Papa Jim and the Convalescing Sadie

Papa Jim and the Convalescing Sadie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the end of that weekend, Sadie was practically back to her old self, and our tree was magnificent.  Jim, Sadie and I were all at home–healthy, happy and thankful for our life together.  Perhaps that’s the true meaning of #Thanksgiving.

The #Arkenberg Tree

The #Arkenberg Tree

 

 

 

Thankful in #Brussels

Thankful in #Brussels

The #Arkenberg Tree

The #Arkenberg Tree

Comments

comments


6 Comments

  1. Toni

    I loved your Thanksgiving story. I felt your melancholy. You are both so far from home and Thanksgiving certainly brings back memories of times past. The worst is not having our traditional holiday celebrated. I think that even makes one feel more homesick and miss those times and loved ones. I loved every word, Todd, and the pictures were the frosting on the cake. I’m glad that Sadie has recuperated. I enjoyed your descriptions. I can see the non smiling faces. I’m smiling right now.
    You are such a terrific writer. I got right into your story and your words swept me away.

    • T.D. Arkenberg

      Dear Toni, High praise indeed from one of my favorite poets. Thanks for reading the story.

  2. Gina Mirch Deyo

    So happy to hear Sadie is ok and your holiday turned out just perfect. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year Todd & Jim

    • T.D. Arkenberg

      Thanks Gina. And a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to you and your family too.

  3. Jerry Stevens

    Living well is the best revenge. When you encountered bemusement at the tree on your car, I hope you gave them a major “Belge Face” in return. Glad Sadie is doing better, and the tree looks beautiful. You have adjusted beautifully to a drastic change in your lives, but it just takes time for everything to become the “new normal”.

    • T.D. Arkenberg

      Thanks Jerry. Of course we weren’t daunted by those amused by the tree on our car roof. We considered it a badge of honor. We love to say with pride, “Well what do you expect? We’re American.” Covers a multitude of cultural faux pas including smiling in public.

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