If someone asked me to describe what I would consider to be a perfect day, my answer would most likely consist of the following: reckless consumption of inordinate amounts of food, a television schedule that includes an expertly timed string of football games, and falling victim to the only type of coma that should be warmly welcomed by humans - all while surrounded by friends and family. To some of us, that's every Sunday (double the amount of football and comas and you're getting there). But for many of us, it's part of a weird holiday we celebrate here in the states: THANKSGIVING.
A long time ago on some rock in the northeastern part of the US of A, some people on a boat ran out of beer, resulting in a panic that led to the immediate necessity to find land, with the hope that their empty tankards would soon be replenished. However, instead of the beer gardens that all people should expect to see when landing on unclaimed land, they instead found natives, who were willing to share provisions with the beer-thirsty newcomers. Perhaps fearing that the natives had pilfered all the local stores of alcohol, the pilgrims gifted the the natives with smallpox, an even trade for those days. This would later result in wars between the two sides, all stemming from the simple needs of a thirsty people.
Today, we celebrate that exchange of disease and food as Thanksgiving, a federal holiday consisting of the arbitrary ingestion of what may possibly be the dumbest creature on the planet. You might be wondering how I've come to know all of this. "But Jordan," you'd whine, "how can you know these things? You weren't there!" This is true. I know of this because I was a history major, once upon a time, which automatically makes any of your arguments invalid. Your whining has now been reduced to the drivels of a petulant child's discourse on what is and isn't fair in this world.
I know you didn't come here for a history lesson, and that's not what I care to talk about. Maybe you came here to talk about the levels of L-tryptophan in turkey, which would explain why we get so sleepy on Thanksgiving. In that case, I'd tell you you're wrong - it's a myth, and you literally need all of 46 seconds and access to Google to figure that out. Or perhaps you are wondering why the Dallas Cowboys always get to play on Thanksgiving. I'm with you on that one. After all, it wasn't the cowboys who invented Thanksgiving, it was the Vikings. A Bachelor's Degree does not lie.
In all seriousness, for a holiday with so much emphasis on family, I can safely say that the last time I spent Thanksgiving with all of the members of my immediate family was in 2007. For reference, that's when Eli Manning beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl...the first time. Even then, I can only vaguely recall the celebration. What I do remember is that during those days, a pair of young and enterprising Jehovah's Witnesses would come to our door fairly often in the course of the several months prior to Thanksgiving. Though normally most of us would pretend to not be home, their repeat visits were encouraged by my dad. My dad was a minister for eleven years, so a healthy discussion was always had whenever the two young men would stop by. Whether or not they were trying to win us over, Thanksgiving found these two missionaries in our home, sharing the food with us as if they were members of the Smith clan.
To me, that's what Thanksgiving is all about. It's easy to associate the holiday with football and turkey and whatnot. There's a big parade in the morning and a glimpse into the failures of the human race immediately following the holiday on the infamously named Black Friday. Like anything, it's easy to commercialize and taint. But it's also not that hard to find joy and fellowship with others, by taking part in something as simple as a turkey dinner.
I spent four years going to college in the city of Abilene, which lies in the epicenter of God-forsaken west Texas. From 2008 to 2011, it was never difficult to find someone to share the holiday with, even though I was living 1200 miles from home. It was my first extended time away from home, away from the comforts of familiarity. I was never the best at making friends, having to combat both my introverted nature and social ineptitude. Even so, my first Thanksgiving away from home in the fall of 2008 would not be spent alone. My sister, my roommate (who was no better at life than I was), and I were invited over by a friend who was from our hometown who also attended the school. Few people spent the week on campus, and it was a depressing affair for those of us who did - but that Thursday was no exception to what I believe the holiday is all about. For that one day at least, we wouldn't be wasting away in our cold and gloomy dorm room. Cinder blocks and fluorescent lights are the coldest of company.
And so it was. Each following year in Texas would be more and more reminiscent of spending the holidays with my family:
In 2009, I traveled to Frisco (Dallas area) and spent a few days with a friend I had met while working at a summer camp. She had allowed me to stay at her house on the weekends during the breaks between camp weeks. She also happened to be the mother of my church's high school minister back in California. Along with him and a few other guests (one of which was a girl who was in the middle of a cross country journey to "find herself"), we ate food, threw the football around in the front yard, and took turns playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which had just come out that month.
In the fall of 2010 and 2011, I was also in the Dallas area. My brother in law's grandparents lived near there, so I tagged along with him and my sister to spend two consecutive Thanksgivings with them. Other members of his family came, and my mom even flew out in 2011. We assembled jigsaw puzzles (I don't even like puzzles) and played card games. Let me tell you this: there's nothing more warm and inviting than spending Thanksgiving with grandparents, whether they are related to you or not.
I was also able to take part in some special service trips in 2009 and 2010. My school had an organization called Weekend Campaigns, and we'd travel to different parts of Texas for a weekend to engage in some community service of some sort. The Thanksgiving trip was always the most popular one. We'd all crowd into several of those massive white vans and drive to a little town just outside of Edmond, Oklahoma. Together, we'd spend the entire day handing out turkeys and various other food items to low-income families. It was a drive through of sorts; cars would be lined up for blocks and they'd open up their trunks and doors to us while driving through, and we'd stockpile tons of food for them so that they could enjoy the blessing of a Thanksgiving meal. Looking back on that, it felt like nothing more than a fun weekend trip, but I imagine it meant much more for those families.
My main point is this: I've been incredibly blessed by others this time of year. While living thousands of miles away from home since 2007, I have never been without good food and company come the holiday season. There always happens to be at least one person nearby who doesn't think I'm such a bad guy. Good on them, because we all know otherwise. In all seriousness, it doesn't take much to please me on Thanksgiving. Just give me ham, a decent slate of NFL, and a fire - and I'll be a happy panda.
I'll regroup after the holiday to share the second part of this blog entry, which will transition from my Thanksgivings in Texas to my Thanksgivings in Seattle. I'm further away from home and family than I've ever been, but there's been no lack of friends to spend it with. I don't know what I've done to deserve that, but I'm thankful for it.
To close, here's a video of some guy trolling a bunch of turkeys:
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!