To an expat, the idea of “home” is very confusing. It could be where you live currently, where you’re from, or even the last place you lived before moving to where you are now. It just depends on the connections you’ve made or the roots you’ve set down. However, on a day like Thanksgiving, home is tied up in the memories of complex feelings and ideas as well as place.
For Americans, Thanksgiving is the truest of cultural holidays and memories are tied up in all sorts of ways. For some people it’s their grandmother’s kitchen or the groaning table laden with food. For others its the insistence about watching a football game that a favorite Uncle had after dinner. Most people have some sort of memories about food, though – it’s a really common thread. Whether it’s Mom’s turkey or the pecan vs. pumpkin pie debate, food plays a huge role in the event.
Yesterday I was over at White Smoke, which is a Texas barbeque place right in my Tokyo neighborhood. (As an aside, the food there is unbelievable – they smoke all of their meats with a Texas dry rub and the flavors are unreal. My son, who is off from school, and I went for lunch.) I got to chatting with the owner and he was telling me that they will have two seatings for Thanksgiving people with upwards of eighty people expected in the restaurant. In a place where restaurants come and go with nerve-wracking frequency, I was glad to hear they were doing so well! But I had to laugh when he told me proudly that he was making the “corn bread dressing” he had grown up with. First off all, I’m from New England. We call it stuffing, not dressing. And corn-bread? Ew! I like plain bread stuffing swimming in onions. In fact, my sister-in-law taught me to make it with sauteed sausage in it. Corn bread is fine to eat as its own side dish, but as a base for stuffing? Not for me, thanks. But that’s his memory – his childhood Thanksgiving food memory is tied up in cornbread dressing, so of course that’s he is going to make it as an adult.
My childhood memories involve the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. My mom had it on ALL day in the kitchen as we ate breakfast and as she cooked the meal. My aunt and uncle and cousins would arrive before noon because they would get a jump on traffic from New York to Connecticut by leaving at the crack of dawn and having breakfast on the road. Every now and then we’d pause in our bustling around to say, “Look! There’s Underdog” (always my favorite balloon) or “Wow, listen to that awesome marching band.”
Having made a number of meals this autumn for the Jewish holidays and having thrown two bar mitzvahs in the past three months, I have abdicated my hosting responsibilities. We are going over to the Tokyo American Club with our friends. These are not just any friends, I must note, though. These are the friends with whom we have a standing Sunday night dinner date. These are the friends who I would call in any emergency. These are the friends where the parents are close and the kids are all equally as close. And most importantly, these are the friends for whom I am grateful daily for their place in our lives. They are as close as we’re going to get to having family in a foreign country.
So while I am missing the Macy’s parade this morning, and I sent flowers to my dearest Auntie, who has my grandmother at her house, and I have already spoken with my mother and father, I am having my own Thanksgiving in Japan, halfway around the world from where I grew up. I am thankful for the ability to create Thanksgiving memories for my children, and I am doubly thankful for the memories of my own holidays of my childhood. I’m going to make it a great day.