First Thanksgiving

kit yoon

If you have known me a while, you may have heard about my first Thanksgiving in America.

If you have not, get a cuppa and have a seat. I have a little story to tell!

I was 13 years old, new to America, and just learning to speak English. It’s safe to say that I did not know anything about the pilgrims (yet), and was definitely clueless about the quintessential American holiday that has since become my favorite for the reasons you will soon find out.

That year, I woke up on Thanksgiving day at my roommate Marnie’s aunt Kathleen’s house in Maine. My memories of those early years are vague, but I do remember waking up to lots of unfamiliar cooking aromas, people chattering in the language that I was slowly becoming familiar with.

I remember that everywhere I looked, there was food!

It was a cold and wet November morning. Before I could brush my teeth, I was offered some chocolate covered strawberries, or ants-on-the-log, or perhaps a piece of pumpkin bread? I remember Marnie being SO happy to be with her family. Her positive energy helped me feel safe, albeit very confused.

I may have been invited to play Monopoly or Scrabble with various cousins, aunts and uncles in the house. Knowing me, I probably turned them all down because a) I didn’t know how to play and b) I was still very very shy and c) how was I going to communicate with anyone?

The morning felt long, but busy. Again, my memory of the day is foggy.

The one thing that imprinted in my memory happened at the Thanksgiving dinner table itself. Even though I was confused why we were eating “dinner” at 2pm, that’s not the memorable part.

It was a long table, beautifully decorated with small squashes, evergreen pine needles, flowers and candles. The main star of the show – the turkey – sat proudly in the middle. There were at least a dozen people gathered around, their excitement for the feast was palpable. Marnie’s other aunt, aunt Colleen, sat at the head of the table. I was sitting next to Marnie, of course. I had velcro-ed myself to her from the moment we left our boarding school dorm room in Massachusetts the day before.

After the commotion of passing dishes and drinks around, various questions were asked and answered, one family member led a short prayer of thanks. Everyone started digging into their plates full of everything you would expect in a Thanksgiving meal.

I remember starring at my plate, at all the foods I had never eaten before!

That was when aunt Colleen requested people to quiet down. In her sweetest tone of voice, she looked directly at me, her exotic guest from a foreign land, and earnestly asked:

“So, Kit! Tell us how your family celebrates Thanksgiving back home! Thailand, right? That’s where you’re from?”

While trying to make sense (aka translating English into Thai in my head) of her question, I heard a few gasps around the table from her family members. One of them could not stay quiet:

“Colleen!! They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Thailand!”

That made aunt Colleen blush and profusely apologized to me. To which, gratefully, I just smiled and replied quietly with a short “that’s okay!”

It’s hard to believe that my first Thanksgiving in America was 35 years ago. I have not returned to aunt Kathleen’s house for it, but I have had 33 more Thanksgivings since then. One of them, 20 years ago, took in the hospital after delivering our twins just a few hours before.

Since that very first Thanksgiving in America, I have hosted and been hosted. I have gone from disliking the gluttony that comes with the occasion (in the forms of food, shopping and otherwise), to loving the connections, gratitude, and yes, (some of) the food. Some years, we get to celebrate our kids’ birthday concurrently, swapping pumpkin pies for a birthday cake. Those are my favorite years.

As we approach Thanksgiving this week, I am again reminded of how lucky we are, of how much we have to be grateful for, of the people, family, friends and food that are present in our lives.

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