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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.