Thanksgiving in France
Yesterday was Thanksgiving.
It isn’t celebrated in Europe for obvious historical reasons. Squanto lived in Massachusetts.
So, faced with a dilemma about what to do regarding this pretty much sacred American tradition of Thanksgiving, I decided that I’d do a scaled down version of dinner, since it’s a regular work day and no body would get home until 7-8ish.
My eldest daughter Rebecca, having spent three years in Michigan for her “studies”, has become a huge fan of stuffing. If we don’t have stuffing at every Christmas dinner, the entire following year is devoted to pouting.
So, in response to my tentative questions: “What should we do for Thanksgiving this year? Are you guys going to be home for dinner Thursday night?”, she immediately jumped on the stuffing bandwagon and became the honorary cheerleader for an impromptu Thanksgiving feast. She even went on Facebook and heralded my intentions of making the works.
Having a number of my friends comment on her begging for the fixings via this live “you’re-never-gonna-live-down-what-an-awful-mother-you-look-like-for not-cooking-for-your-daughter-for-thanksgiving!” chat line, I had to buck up and search out two elusive items, a turkey and a pumpkin, for a Thanksgiving feast.
As it is, turkeys are found in France mostly in the form of cutlets.
Which leads you to wonder just how many breasts can a turkey have?
Has someone done a weird hybrid thing where the turkeys mate via artificial insemination and grow lots of breasts but no legs?
This deserved some investigation, since entire turkeys are miraculously available in the butcher shops around Christmas but never at any other time of the year.
Where to find a normal one a month too early?
So, I called my neighbor, an elderly lady, who thinks I’m a bit unusual.
And I have to give her some credit here, as I am the only foreigner in these parts since WWII, and those were mostly uniformed Germans. Therefore, having an American show up in her neighborhood was quite a surprise.
Even more surprising is the fact that I’ve stayed here for so long. I think they’re still waiting for me to give up and go home, regardless of my 24 year stint in the same house.
Don’t misunderstand me though; she has always been unfailingly kind and helpful to me when I call on her for help. It’s just the way she looks at me when I speak to her, as if she expects me to start spurting diet soda through my nose or grow purple hair from my ears. In fact, I don’t think I could actually do anything that would really surprise them. They’re expecting the unimaginable from me in advance. This is a very strange feeling, by the way, knowing that absolutely any off-the-wall thing you could invent would be met with a wry smile and a nod of the head, as if to say, “Well, she is American, after all.”
To deal with this, I lead a pretty much uneventful existence in the neighborhood. The houses are set far apart; some of them are still farms with cows, chickens and sheep.
No turkeys though.
So I asked her where I could find one. Silly me…of course, they’re available at the fowl farm in the village just down the road.
The fowl farm? Yup, a family of farmers has been raising fowl of all sorts for hundreds of years.
How this could have escaped my attention was obviously of some concern to her. Had I never heard the cackling as I drove by? Well, I do have a tendency to drive with the radio on, singing loudly to the likes of the Rolling Stones, so…no.
A quick phone call to the farm and I was given an appointment and directions.
When I showed up the next morning, I was introduced to a wide selection of gobblers. “Go ahead and choose one”, I was told.
Right. I felt like they should all run away and hide in the bushes so as to avoid being seen by me - the bringer of death. Silly creatures that they are, instead of fearing me, they all came swarming about my knees, showing off.
The fowl farmer waited patiently while I dismally looked about, trying to find some valid reason for bringing about the demise of a particular subject. The more I looked the cuter they all seemed.
And did you realize that the ones we eat are all girl turkeys? Not an ugly-chinned, multi-hued feathered Tom in the bunch. I felt like a traitor of the Benedict Arnold sort.
I was miserable.
I know now that I was being sentimental, because turkeys are not cute. Not any of them.
I turned away from the flock and looked at Mr. Farmer. “You’re better at this than I am, you choose! There will be 6 of us for dinner, so not a very big one.”
Great, not only had I betrayed females of all species, now I was aiming at teenaged females. I had to leave.
The next day was Thanksgiving. I drove over to the farm with my heart in my shoes. No singing of “Satisfaction” was heard coming from my car. I paid the friendly fowl farmer fellow and drove home with my new friend plucked naked in a plastic bag.
When I got home, I saw that she still possessed her head and feet. I had to sit down.
A few sweaty minutes later, I screeched for my gardener to come and decapitate and de-foot her, because my hypocrisy knows no bounds.
She was dead, yet, I couldn’t do the necessary chopping. Once she had stopped looking at me, I could proceed to stuff her and tie her up, placing her in the old enameled roasting pan, which would render her deliciously juicy.
When she started to smell really wonderful, I sat down and had a glass of wine, pondering my ridiculous squeamishness, when I couldn’t deny being a carnivore and loving it.
My mother grew up on a farm and one year they ate my aunt’s pet turkey for dinner. It caused a ruckus but being practical people, they all got over it.
I wonder how I would have fared if I had to be gutting pigs and rabbits for survival. I probably wouldn’t have given it a thought if I had to do so to feed my family.
The red wine decided that my sentimentality was indeed a city girl luxury.
When it came time to announce each and every one’s reasons for being thankful just before we dug in and started the Thanksgiving feast, I was silently thankful that I wasn’t a turkey.
We ate up and finished off with homemade pumpkin pie, made from a pumpkin, not from purée in a can.
I had experienced absolutely no qualms about butchering the jack-o-lantern into pieces so he’d fit in my pressure cooker.
Hypocrisy is the unwilling lesson of the day, because next month when I have to re-stuff another female bird, I will. If only because I haven’t found an effective way to stuff soy bean curd with onions, sage, mushrooms and celery.
Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday with your families and friends, and that you’re surviving the American ritual of Black Friday!
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