Last Thursday, I stood in a kitchen with two paper bowls of chopped celery, diced carrots, and sliced onion. On a cutting board on the other side of the room, much more messily cut, were the chunks that had resulted from the chopping of two red apples and three cloves of garlic. On the stove, three-quarters of a cup of butter sizzled in a frying pan, and an enormous glass bowl full of stale bread crumbs was sitting on the kitchen table. My phone was the countertop, currently connecting me, in the way that only iPhones can, to my mother and father and sister and brothers, who, halfway around the world and five hours earlier, were also in a kitchen. My siblings were making pumpkin and pudding pies (the latter is a favorite of my youngest brother), while my parents prepped the turkey. They were still talking to me, but I’d stopped responding, because I was trying to figure out how to pull the disparate bits of my stuffing together. The disparate bits of myself, I thought, might be splattered around this kitchen for good.
It was Thanksgiving, and it was strange, because hardly anyone around me seemed to know it. It was an ordinary day in Ireland – a little gray, a little rainy, but windy in a way that was invigorating, rather than icy, propelling me along as I made my ordinary morning commute to internship and class. In fact, everyone seemed to be making their ordinary morning commute. There were no turkey decorations in the shop windows, no special advertisements at the grocery store. One of the men who work at the radio station said, “Happy Thanksgiving!” to me as I sat at my computer in the newsroom, and I had to think for a second before I realized that he was right. I knew it was Thanksgiving from the moment I’d woken up. I just kept not really being able to believe it.
But if my Thanksgiving in Ireland was strange in some ways, it was utterly typical in other ones. I got stressed out while preparing the food. I somehow always manage to be stressed out about something on Thanksgiving. I think this is because holidays can be stressful. My mother says it’s because I don’t know how to just relax. Both of these things might be true. So I got stressed out as usual, and things turned out just fine in the end – also, admittedly, as they usually did. My stuffing turned out all right, by which I mean rather dry and possibly more like bread crumbs and vegetables than actual stuffing, but still good. (“Do you think these are croutons?” my friend asked me later, when we were in the serving line, apparently unaware of what my contribution to the meal had been. He ate them, anyway. I think.)
Crouton-like stuffing notwithstanding, everything else at the IES Abroad dinner was delicious. My roommate made a vegan kale and spinach dip that I could probably eat forever, while our other housemate made a pumpkin pie that may be the closest thing to edible perfection I will ever get. I enjoyed it all the more so because pumpkin is something you don’t find a lot in Ireland. Jack-o-lanterns have a long history in this country – the name actually relates to an old Irish myth about a trickster named Jack who tried to make a deal with the Devil – but the original Irish jack-o-lantern was a carved turnip. Pumpkin is one of my favorite things to eat, and pumpkin bread is probably the food I’ve missed most during my time here (although I’ll admit to also craving pretzels and Goldfish more than once), and so I really appreciated the chance to get to taste a bit of America while celebrating the most American of holidays, even if I wasn’t actually in America.
So Thanksgiving was odd and ordinary, all at once. The familiar things – like the Turkey hands we used to decorate the classroom in which we ate, the pumpkin pie, the mashed potatoes – were coupled with the unfamiliar things, or, anyway, the things that were familiar to my Irish life but utterly strange to my notions of American Thanksgiving. We had our dinner in the same classroom where I’ve sat, week after week, and learned about Irish myths and short stories. I ate at a school desk, food piled high on a paper plate, without anyone who was remotely related to me. My family was thousands of miles away. But I was surrounded instead by the people who have been nearest and dearest to me in Ireland. (Sorry for the sappiness, but this is an essay about Thanksgiving.) There was fireplace at the front of the room was computerized, but it crackled warmly, anyway.
So everything was sort of real and sort of fake, except that the authentic things were sort of inauthentic, being in the wrong places, and the inauthentic things were sort of authentic, being in the right ones. The turkey was sliced and served on deli platters with piles of lettuce; there was Irish soda bread on the table next to the green bean casserole; my London-born, half-Irish R.A. was flummoxed by the very idea of sweet potato casserole (“Would Americans consider this to be a savory dish? … You mean you eat this with your meal?”). It was utterly bemusing and slightly confusing and all something for which I am very, very grateful.
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<p>I'm a rising junior at Williams College majoring in English and political science. I love reading and running, Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling, pumpkin bread and pretzels, The Grapes of Wrath and green tea. I'm spending a semester in Ireland to study Irish literature and to work on my own writing.</p>