All American expats I know are today paying their respects, in big ways or small, wherever in the world they happen to find themselves, to the tradition of Thanksgiving.
We’re enjoying Turkey Day this year in Baltimore, Maryland, the jumping-off point for my own live-and-invest-overseas adventures more than 20 years ago.
I write from the table in my mother’s kitchen. As I work, she’s working, too, preparing all the requisites of a traditional American Thanksgiving celebration… just as I’ve watched her do so many times before.
The house smells of melting butter and cinnamon… the turkey is sizzling as it browns in the oven… and the water in the big black kettle atop the stove—the one my mother inherited from her mother—is coming to a boil. Time to drop in the potatoes…
My sister’s children are playing video games together in the living room.
My own children are spread far and wide this year. My daughter and son-in-law are in Panama, helping to hold down the fort at LIOS HQ in Panama City… and my son Jackson is in China, studying for exams (well… that’s the hope) that will mark the end of his first semester as a freshman at NYU Shanghai.
This first empty-nest Thanksgiving I’m more sentimentally inclined even than usual. And, fresh off last week’s visit to Ireland, I’m remembering our first Thanksgiving as Americans abroad…
You couldn’t buy a turkey, plucked or in any condition, really, other than roaming around a barnyard, in Waterford when we first arrived on the scene.
Nor could you find cranberry sauce or pumpkin filling for making a pie in any supermarket.
Our first Thanksgiving in Waterford, I discovered these realities the hard way, by asking at every market in town. My inquiries were met with blank stares.
Finally, I asked a friend, Gerri.
“I understand that you don’t have Thanksgiving here in Ireland,” I said, “but you do eat turkey, don’t you? Where do you get it?”
“You raise it. Or you buy it from a farmer,” Gerri explained.
By the time we left Ireland, seven years later, it was possible to buy a frozen turkey in any of the big supermarkets that opened while we were Waterford residents. However, those first few years, a turkey for roasting was a home-grown specialty.
Our first Thanksgiving in Waterford, therefore, Gerri introduced me to a farmer friend of hers able to fulfill my turkey agenda.
We could have paid him to pluck the bird for us, but Gerri thought it’d be fun for me to try my hand at it myself. So she and I, one cold, misty November Saturday morning, found ourselves in the drafty old barn of her farmer friend, recently dead turkey on the plank table before us.
Eventually that turkey was plucked, but I don’t think I could, in good conscience, take the credit. Mostly, I watched, shivering, as Gerri obliged and prepared the main event for my family’s first Thanksgiving overseas.
Ever since, we’ve debated—return home to Baltimore for Thanksgiving… or share the tradition with friends in the different places where we’ve found ourselves this time of year over the years?
Now, more than two decades into this living and investing overseas adventure, we’re torn.
Baltimore will always be my home town, of course… but “home” for me now is not an address on a map but a frame of mind.
Now I carry Baltimore with me… as I carry Waterford, Paris, Panama City, and other places where Lief and I have put down roots and made connections that have become our extended and ever-expanding family.
The motto of NYU Shanghai, where young Jackson is currently studying, is: “Make The World Your Major.”
I say: Make the world your home…