Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A Scottish Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving: Messy, Complicated, Forgiving, Sentimental and Pecan Pie with loads of Whipped Cream.

While I celebrate my fifth year wedding anniversary in Scotland, Americans dish up turkey and dressing, sweet potato pie and green bean casserole. This is Thanksgiving week. A harvest festival: a week to be grateful for family and friends, football, Black Friday and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Even those who are less fortunate can queue up at the local shelter and enjoy a meal fit for a king. But in the average American kitchen this week, you can count on sheer pandemonium. Men and women who normally microwave their supper will wake before sunrise, to chop endless piles of onions and celery for cornbread stuffing, oyster stuffing, sage stuffing, chestnut stuffing; it depends on what part of the country you boast before happily getting on to the next project of more endless piles of chopping for yet another Thanksgiving favorite. Do you stuff the turkey, bag the turkey, baste the turkey, deep fry the turkey or simply order it from Central Market (if your roots are Houstonian)? There is much to organize on this popular American holiday, from how many pies to prepare to what time the feast is served to who will drive Aunt Jess and Uncle Nick home.

It’s not always easy being affluent. It has its shadow side, like loneliness and families who are fractured and so deeply wounded they must have two Thanksgiving feasts because of a history of pride and poor choices. (As is the case in my family: sadly, it's what we, the older generation, bequeathed to our children, my son, my nieces and nephews; it's their legacy).

I think it’s important to remember these ugly bits about the holidays because it gives such potency, such poetry to gratitude. Most of you reading this blog already know my family history and its unflattering tales and most of you will remember that in spite of this my mother and I and my son, Zach, actually managed some very pleasant, in fact memorable Thanksgiving moments together. Of course, on the other side of town were the rest of her family, her son and his wife and their children, her grandchildren celebrating without us; the shadow of Thanksgiving.

We simply gorge ourselves on this feast and even take another plate from the table to the den to watch football, when not far from this bounty, more food than is found in some small, under developed villages more than their population could consume in a week is the awareness that we eat and they eat less.

These are the polarities of life, the light and the dark, the old and the young, the sick and the healthy, the happy and the sad, the wounded and the new born of all our lives that bring us together in concert at Thanksgiving.

In the far northeast of Scotland last week, where the gale force winds hold you sideways and the sky casts a muted light, Adam, my nephew, came to visit. We didn’t celebrate a national holiday together, we just celebrated being with each other. We cooked and laughed and engaged in polite debate: the British way. Nothing escaped us, not religion, abortion, spirituality, psychology, the dying and the newly born, our immediate family members and their children and our respective trips back to the States, we covered much ground.

Adam and Paul played music to entertain the chef by and I must say we ate like Royalty, maybe better than. In this pre-Anniversary week, I was completely conscious of the goodness at the table here at Cottarton: the goodness of the people, their kindness and their generosity, the spirited conversations and the unreserved laughter – it was all here and yet…

I know what loneliness is: I know loneliness in a most intimate way and because I know, my gratitude for the family I do have and for the loving relationships active in my life, I am so very thankful this Thanksgiving season.

To paraphrase Joseph Campbell: “It doesn’t matter what seat I’m in at the opera, I’m just so grateful to see the show.”

At this American Thanksgiving Table, this season, don’t forget to pass a little shadow along with the cranberry sauce.


  1. Amen! Well said! We all have our shadows...whether we admit to them or not. We, too, have been married 5 years. This is our 6th Thanksgiving together and while some family members on my husband's side choose not to be part of our life....we will celebrate with the ones who do. I like the saying, "Make the most of what you've got....and the least of what you've not." Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  2. Lovely entry... Am thinking of you all today (and every day, actually)- glad you got some time to share with Adam, and Daddy got a partner for some duets, by the looks of things! I have many wonderful memories of Thanksgiving growing up, and then in St. Louis with Johanna, that make it probably my favourite holiday. Happy Anniversary, and happy Thanksgiving!!!

  3. johanna Kieniewicz27 November 2010 at 10:20

    that sounds very nice! miss you and hope you all make it down!

  4. what an interesting Thanksgiving table!
    no turkey, stuffing,gravy,potatoes cranberry sauce,pies,bit lot's of booze!WOW. . interesting Thanksgiving in Scotland!!!