Thanksgiving has always meant taking road trips to enjoy the last days of upstate New York’s fall foliage, getting used to cloud-covered skies and chillier temps as winter crept in, and of course, family get togethers stuffed full with all the familiar faces and all the familiar recipes. Tradition!
Far away from home in 2007, instead, we found ourselves on a slightly longer road trip in the midst of finalizing our daughter’s adoption. About three weeks in the process, the warm Bogotá sun still allowed us to take strolls through local parks and along the city streets. Instead of falling leaves, we stopped to smell exotic in-bloom flowers–many of which we’d never seen before. Meal times felt more like experiments as we tasted our way through new ingredients. All the familiar faces were more than 2,500 miles away.
Our residence was was full with other families and children ranging from infants to tweens–we were a mix of Colombians, Americans, and French. Our hostess, Tia Betty, was ever aware of the tide of nationalities that made its way through her doors. As Thanksgiving approached, she asked if we would be interested in celebrating the holiday. Everyone jumped at the chance, and so the planning and shopping began.
Betty picked up two turkeys and her amazing staff even whipped up some pumpkin pies. Several of the residents chipped in by making family favorites of their own or sharing bottles of wine. Someone made sangria and set it in the sunny courtyard. My husband and I pulled together our usual green bean casserole–minus the fried onions, which we were unable to find. I think we had just about everything. Hearing that the founder of the orphanage where we had adopted from was going to join us made the day even more special.
I’ll be honest, as new parents to a five-month-old living far from the familiar and what had up until then been our familiar, the weeks had become more than a little blurry in between early mornings, late nights, and a child who clearly did not believe in naps. But I do remember all of our housemates and guests gathered around the table that evening–there were so many, we wound up having to separate into two rooms.
Before the feast, we took turns sharing something we were each thankful for. What my husband and I were most thankful for was, of course, the opportunity to share our very first Thanksgiving as a family of three surrounded by so many other families also celebrating new beginnings–and I’m pretty sure it’s not a stretch to say that shared sentiment filled the residence no matter the cultural or language barriers. Together, we ate, we drank, we sang Christmas carols–we gave thanks.
And after all the plates had been cleared, the guests and housemates slipped away, and the little ones had been put to bed, I paused for a moment in a wooden rocking chair before the fireplace. I digested the moment while our little one was (thankfully) happily asleep upstairs and my husband joked with the staff still hard at work in the kitchen. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed It’s a Wonderful Life playing on the small television in the next room–I think it was in Spanish, but I was so tired (that new parent syndrome) just seeing the show with its universal message of thanks and giving, with good ‘ole George Bailey acknowledging what is most important in life, was the cherry on top that made our home-far-away-from-home feel just a little bit closer that night.