Turkey Day, New Zealand, 2016

During our last week at Hopewell, Mike and Lynley announced that they wanted to throw a Thanksgiving party for us to celebrate our American heritage. It quickly turned into a huge feast with 15 other people from Germany, France, New Zealand, Sweden and Canada. Caitlin and I were the only two Americans at the meal. The pressure was on and time was ticking away.

T – 12 Hours Until Turkey Time: I am awake hours before work starts, as usual. I sit up in my bed and embrace the sweet scent of Thanksgiving Morning. The birds are whistling and whirring outside, preparing the world for the imminent feast. I stumble out of my bed and pull on the nicest clothes in my backpack: jeans and a plaid button-up. Sadly, a ballgown did not make the cut as a necessary item to bring.

T – 10 Hours: We hustle through our chores with the lightning speed of someone who knows that stuffing is in their future. The sun is out and the water is calm. The world holds its breath. This Thanksgiving will be one for the ages.

T – 8 Hours: Work is finished and meal preparation begins. Almost immediately I realize how ill-equipped I am for the task. While I have attended many Thanksgiving events in my day, I don’t actually remember preparing more than a few vegetable dishes — definitely not a turkey. But every story needs a little adversity, and this one is no different. Mike is horrified at our dismal cooking performance and brings out educational tools for reinforcement. He cracks open his grandmother’s 1950s cookbook about the ideal housewife, The Modern American Woman, and gives us a lesson in braising meat. His laid-back Kiwi accent is replaced with a thick southern American accent as he lectures us on meal presentation and hosting etiquette. 

T – 7 Hours: Lynley takes over the role of Turkey Expert as Caitlin and I fill in the role of manual labor. We spin around each other in the kitchen in a complex turkey preparation dance. Caitlin’s knife flashes through beige pumpkins while I press pie crusts and Lynley’s quick hands rinse the turkey and two chickens. When it is time to stuff the birds, I start by delicately ladling the bread mixture into the chicken with a wooden spoon. However, more stuffing ended up on the counter than in the chicken so I resorted to grabbing a massive handful and shoving it in as far as I could. It was traumatizing and degrading for the chicken, I’m sure, but the experience did not lessen my excitement for the meal.

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Caitlin, hammering her Snickers.

T – 5 Hours: With the main courses prepped and in the oven, Caitlin and exited the kitchen to create her mystery dessert, Snicker Bar Salad. I am ignorant of this dish, so I kept a safe distance as Caitlin smashed frozen snickers into dust with a hammer and whipped up cream. This must be a Hayward, WI, delicacy and I did not want to meddle in the intricate preparation. So I stuck to the role of photographer.

T – 4 Hours: Even though Caitlin and I were not able to contribute family turkey or stuffing recipes, there was one crucial aspect that we had fully under our control: decorations. We hauled a basket of pens and paper back to the Common Room to create table decorations. Caitlin quickly set to work on hand turkey cut outs and pilgrim hats that were classically pretty and actually resembled turkeys. I, on the other hand, took control of the ‘abstract’ art work. I taped neon pink, yellow and blue construction paper onto a metal teapot in overlapping flaps. If you cock your head and use as much of your imagination as possible, I promise it almost looks like a fat bird with a mohawk. It represents the summation of all my artistic ability.

T – 2 Hours: Caitlin and I have one hour of rest during the calm before the storm. I meditate out on the deck looking out over the beach, mentally preparing my stomach for the feast that is now very much in view.

T – 1 Hour: The guests begin to arrive and we set up the long table out on the veranda. My multi-colored teapot turkey receives a few benevolent comments and his feathers stick up a little higher. Wine glasses are filled and people mill around, waiting in suspense for the big reveal. Caitlin and I demonstrate our perfected turkey gobbles for the international crowd. They look confused, but earnestly trying not to offend this supposed American tradition, they gamely jump in and soon everyone is shouting turkey noises at the top of their lungs.

TURKEY TIME: The moment has arrived. It is night by the time we all sit down around the table and the food is illuminated in soft lighting from the fireplace. We file through the row of food, filling our plates with meats, vegetables, stuffings and breads. After hours of preparation, the consumption of the meal takes only moments. Conversation ceases a few minutes as plates are cleaned, but then the low rumble returns. The Germans next to me are inadequately impressed, calling Thanksgiving just a big meal, but Caitlin and I know the night has been a success. Most of the credit, if we’re honest, goes to Lynley. While I’m still digesting turkey, a bowl of pumpkin pie, pavlova, ice cream and Snicker Bar Salad slides in front of me. I am beyond full, but I do not want to disrespect our valued American tradition, so I do my best to finish all four desserts, in honor of my country.

turkey-dinner

When the food is all done, Lynley announces that since the women cooked the men will clean up and they waste no time obeying her. The whole event begins to wrap up around 11 p.m. and everyone slowly moves back to their rooms, overcome by a food coma. I look around at all the faces that made Hopewell so welcoming and feel a bittersweet twinge. I will really miss the people and the camaraderie we’ve built here. A few days later we will be on a water taxi across Marlborough Sounds, waving goodbye to Mike and Lynley as we hurtle back to Picton. But for now, we are grateful for our last few moments together.

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