Dogs Barking, People Screaming, and Groping the Widow Kennedy: Thanksgiving Traditions

Last year, my first as an emigrée, was also the first year I had ever been apart from my family on Thanksgiving.  It hit me hard.  I spent the whole day wandering about in a ravenous daze, compulsively eating and never feeling satisfied.  It was like something out of Dante's Inferno.

Never again, I vowed.  So this summer I arranged my entire teaching schedule for the year around this one week, making it possible for me to go home on the day before Thanksgiving without missing any class.  Here's what happened:

November 24, 2010

Rapid exit from my last class of the day, while the students are doing their end-of-term evaluations of me.  (My students are very excited to hear about my travels; one even writes me an email the next day, hoping that I have a good time in Detroit, a city I have no connection to and would not be visiting.  I don't know.) Panicked exodus to airport, where I have arrived absurdly early for a flight I had forgotten was domestic and not international (I'm connecting to my hometown of Washington, DC through Montreal).

Halifax doesn't want to let me go.  Freezing fog.  45 minute delay while we de-ice.

Result?  Panicked run in high heels (still dressed for lecturing, you see) through the Montreal airport.  They have been holding the plane for me, and are just closing it as I hobble up to the gate.  I collapse exhaustedly into my seat with a sigh of triumph, and we begin to taxi to the runway.

An hour later: still taxiing. Right back to the gate.  Unnamed technical trouble.  We disembark into the now-empty airport.

"Mesdames et messieurs, we apologize for the problem that has brought your plane back to Montreal.  Your replacement plane will arrive from New York in an hour; we will groom and then board you.

"The terminal is closed, but you are free to use the restrooms if accompanied by a uniformed escort.

"There is an exercise occurring in the terminal: if you hear dogs barking and people screaming, don't be alarmed."

But the only person screaming was a fellow American passenger who (surrounded by Quebecois travelers who received the news of the delay with Gallic shrugs and jokes about how there was undoubtedly a woman at the root of it) roundly and screechingly cursed the gate agent first in English and then in salty, fluent French.

I just sat there, working my way through Mt. Grademore, thinking, "The closest thing the modern experience has to the ancient Athenian feeling of total subjection to fate is traveling on Thanksgiving weekend.  Well, and the DMV."

November 25, 2010

Nineteen at our Thanksgiving tables.  Many of them people I haven't seen in a couple of years, because of the Thanksgiving manqué last year.  Documented for the ages (and in Dutch!) by one of our friends, who brought two visitors from Iceland for their first Thanksgiving.  Because the best Thanksgivings are the ones involving strangers as well as friends.

I realize that it really isn't Thanksgiving until the tale of my father's groping Jackie Kennedy is told. 

"Was she wearing a corset?", our friends asked.

"Yes.  She was heavily girdled," my father replied, and got a faraway expression in his eyes that indicated that this - this moment in his early twenties - might be the most vivid single memory of his whole life.

"How did it happen?", the Thanksgiving collective nudged.

"I was standing in the hallway backstage at Carnegie Hall after a concert, holding my viola above my head to protect it from the crush, when I noticed huge men standing on either side of me, with hearing aids in their ears and huge bulges under their arms.  Then I realized that there was a small woman with big hair standing in front of me, and I thought, 'This is the opportunity of a lifetime.'"

The rest is history, and Thanksgiving legend.  As my Canadian friend said, "It's important to have traditions." Don't you all remember learning about the first Thanksgiving, when the pilgrims regaled their new friends with tales of their pre-conversion encounters with Anne of Denmark in the hallways of Greenwich?  I do.

We heard the tale that night, and again two days later at the traditional post-Thanksgiving dim sum with all the same people.  What say you, Père Sycorax?  Did I do it justice here?

November 26, 2010

Some people watch football on Thanksgiving.  I can't get into a sport that is a battle of tactics instead of a drama of character.  So instead I spent Thanksgiving addicting my parents to Friday Night Lights.  It's a hard sell: Texas, sports dramas, beautiful people, American productions, and high school narratives all rank high on the list of things my parents are NOT intrigued by.  All I could do to counteract these demerits was assert that it is really, really good.

I only realized upon my third viewing of the opening season of FNL how exceedingly Canadian Tim Riggins's Texan accent is.  I keep waiting (giddily) for him to be drawn into more conversations aboat Texas, and how he never wants to get oat of his beloved home town.  Texas forever!

I think I am beginning to miss Canada.

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