Saturday, December 04, 2004

Thanksgiving in Okmulgee

You either have to be American (or Canadian) or to have been there, to understand what Thanksgiving means to families. I was there this year, for the second time in a row, to share a family occasion that is without peer, anywhere else on Earth.

Thanksgiving is when families come together, free from the commercialisation that is Christmas, to be together, as a family, and give thanks. Quite what they are thankful for one can only guess, it will be a bit different in every home. The usual health, wealth and happiness, I imagine, but also community, country and the wider world.

Last year, my friend’s Mom had prepared a few words as was her habit. These were delivered with real sincerity, as was the Grace spoken this year, in the home of Jodie’s sister. What was clear to me last year as well as this, was the privilege I felt at being invited to this, most personal of events. I thank my hosts.

I was half expecting the people I met this year to be somehow *different* to me. Let’s face it, they are a church-going family from a small town in the mid-west of America. I am, at best agnostic, from a busy metropolitan area 5000 miles away. I wondered what we might have in common. But as I am finding out, such things start to matter a great deal less when you look below the surface.

At the start of the proceedings, Jodie’s niece had persuaded me to part with $1, for a bar of chocolate she was selling to provide funds for her school. So, business as usual. That is certainly something Tom and Joe would recognise. Pst! Don’t no one tell her, but I woulda paid more :) A little later, I was in the kitchen, busily trying to remember my *Rules For Not Upsetting Peoples Relatives* (we’ll come to them), when I picked up the lid of a casserole dish. On it was Jodie’s sisters name and address. It turns out that the church members regularly take along prepared food, so they mark the dishes in a way that makes it easy to get them back to their owners. I made a comment about rummaging through other folk’s kitchens to see what they had *forgotten* to return, and there were giggles, and some knowing looks …. hehe

The point of all this, tho, is something else. In that moment I had a glimpse into a community. A community where people are contributing simply as part of their every day lives. A place where getting the kids first to school, then college, while bringing home the bacon, is a simple fact of life. I saw the community I come from, and it felt good.

So, what are these rules?

1) Eat everything on your plate.

2) Compliment the cook(s)

3) Agree with the womenfolk

4) The older the woman, the more you agree

5) Never discuss Religion or Politics

There are others, but these are the basics. And they have stood me in pretty good stead these many a long year, with the possible exception of the mother of a girlfriend I had way back in the early 80s. After a reasonably harmonious afternoon during which I refrained from telling her to *shut-up* at least 6 times, she remarked to her daughter “That young man is so self-assured I don’t know why he needs a girlfriend*. To this day I am not sure what she meant :)

So yet again, Thanksgiving was a wonderful experience. Meeting Jodie’s family was everything I hoped it would be, in my turn, I hope I didn’t disappoint :) The last word on the day has to go to Jodie’s elder sister tho. If she had any intention whatsoever of discouraging me, then I’m afraid she completely blew it with the baked sweet potato. Quite honestly, they are worth making a return visit for on their own!

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