JIM CREES: Home (away from home) on the holiday

TCREES MUGomorrow most folks will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day in some form or the other – with old or new traditions. This is a day when the people of this nation give thanks – for the goodness and bounty they’ve enjoyed over the past year.

Thanksgiving Day is one of the most American of all holidays and despite its very religious nature we, as a nation, have managed to keep it free (more or less) of the denominational wranglings that mess up so many other holidays.

People of every race, religion, creed and ethnic background can enjoy the day and give thanks however they so please.

Thanksgiving Day is the one specific holiday Americans around the globe tend to celebrate… together.

In Paris, London, Rome and Kathmandu, American ex-pats will gather tomorrow to share a Thanksgiving meal. It takes them “home” for at least a short time before they continue on with global wanderings.

While living in Israel, the very few American folks living in our farming community gathered for a common meal with others from farms and rural communities up and down the Jordan Valley – alongside the Jordan River.

Thanksgiving Day was something we all planned for… carefully. The community meal was a logistic wonder.

At the time, we had little or no access to the traditional staples which went into making much of a Thanksgiving holiday meal.

We did have turkey. Oh, we had turkey.

Our farm was the largest producer of turkey in the Middle East. We raised 250,000 turkeys a year. Big business. We ate turkey almost seven days a week. Sigh.

Everything else, however, was a little out of reach – over 6,000 miles out of reach!

So, each year, throughout the year, our parents back home in the U.S. sent specific supplies and goodies to flesh out the Thanksgiving Day meal. More often than not through the mail.

Jane was in charge of baking the turkeys – six of them. This was quite an operation. If you’ve ever baked one turkey, imagine turning out six for one meal.

Jane’s mom, in Mount Kisco, N.Y., mailed her six or seven cans of cranberry sauce (the jellied kind) one can at a time.

Harvey (a Canadian) had his folks send him maple syrup and brown sugar – both unavailable in Israel at the time.

He made the sweet potatoes.

My mom sent me four or five jars of Karo syrup so I could turn out pecan pies. She also sent me jars of the non-meat minced meat filling for more pies and I baked a world-class apple pie – with an emphasis on just the right amount of nutmeg.

(I’m proud to say my apple pie recipe is still being used around the world by old friends – from Philadelphia to Jerusalem – and is called Jim’s Pie.)

We once tried to make pumpkin pie from scratch – but not with a pumpkin. Rather we used a big squash. The pie tasted like a sweet, kinda chunky squash pie but everyone seemed to enjoy it anyway!

We put on the entire feast. Mashed potatoes, stuffing… the whole deal.

Incredible amounts of food made ever so much more tasty by the fact everyone was kicking in, and nobody really cared if everything or anything was perfect.

Cooking for 25 to 30 adults and a whole slew of kids in a half dozen widely separated, tiny European-style kitchens is a challenge made more challenging by the fact most of our cooks were kinda-sorta guessing at things.

When it came time to sit down to the Thanksgiving meal we usually met in one of the local school classrooms, piled the tables high with an astonishing (under the circumstances) amount and variety of food, and tried to get the kids to slow down for a moment in order to get food served without major disasters.

It was a great meal, and a joy-filled time of fellowship with lots of laughing over this year’s Thanksgiving fails! We were all so grateful and thankful to have each other as friends.

We were family by choice.

Over the years we watched kids grow. We saw some of our cooks and their families leave our embrace while others came to fill the empty space.

We shared a table with Americans, Swedes, Swiss, South Africans, Israelis, and many other nationalities – and the feast was always called “The Americans’ Thanksgiving.”

It was OUR holiday and we were ever so happy and thankful to share it with so many friends.

My kids, now very grown, still remember Thanksgiving ‘at home’ in Israel.

They remember everyone kicking in to help and remember being called on to lug and haul, set and clear tables. They remember being part of the process, and seeing how warm, embracing and accepting this group was of each other.

Those memories make the holiday today even more special.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Please make some memories for your children and grandchildren.

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Posted by Jim Crees

Jim is the editor in chief of the Pioneer, Herald Review and Lake County Star. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8360 or by e-mail at jcrees@pioneergroup.com.

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