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A THANKSGIVING STORY

December 1, 2010
A teacup for all time

Commemorating the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Mass.

Thanksgiving morning arrived bright, crisp and refreshingly tantalizing here in South Wales.  There was no hint of the snows to come only a few days later, the leaves on the hedges were still a bright orange, and the local wildlife flitted about tucking away their meals for the winter to come.  It was a perfect day to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in the UK, so with great hope, the local butcher in our market town of Abergavenny had been given our turkey order several weeks before.  I had appeared in front of the meat counter with my roasting pan in hand and only had to describe the small ovens I was working with back at my cottage for him to instantly recognize my dilemma.  “A twelve pound turkey will fit.  No larger.” So a twelve-pounder I ordered, and began paring down my invitation list. Last year, in Florida, we were 22 around the table.  This year, the pilgrims and Indians would be limited.

Every week while doing my normal meat marketing, I’d check in with Chris, the butcher.  HJ Edwards and Son has been serving the Abergavenny area for over 150 years, so if they couldn’t get me a turkey, no one could.  Chris was frustrated.  The turkey farmer had gone missing, wasn’t answering his phone, was out feeding his birds, or doing things other than assuring us that our turkey was plumping up for his special day. 

The turkey season in Wales is in December, when all the local tables are festooned with the crisp, golden birds.  November was still out of season.  So I was thankful, relieved, appreciative and humbled when I looked in Edwards’ cold case just two days before Thanksgiving.  There sat the most luscious fresh turkey I had ever seen.  Boasting a “sold” sign, I was the envy of all the shoppers at Edwards the Butcher that day!

My other challenge was preparing the side dishes with my American recipes and British measurements and products.  For twenty years I had prepared a pomegranate, walnut, pineapple, celery, cranberry jello mold the likes of which you’ve never tasted.  Thanks to my friend Liz in Los Angeles, who first gave me the recipe, our guests would wait in anticipation for the mold to be served. This year, I was faced with preparing it with “jelly”, the British version of jello that comes in squishy cubes, pineapple squares, not crushed, and pale pink pomegranates.  I could only hope.

Turkey stuffing was another challenge.  There were no Pepperidge Farm packages of seasoned sage stuffing chunks on the shelves, but instead, tiny packets of breadcrumb-size bits that called themselves stuffing.  Add to that my having to use beef sausages (a few Kosher guests were coming), all I could do was cross my fingers.

The good news was that the butter I used was totally fresh from the farm, my chicken stock was homemade and containers of it occupied the shelves in my small freezer, frozen peas are a staple here, and the carrots tasted as if they had just been plucked from the ground, which they had.  I was ready for the Indians.

My table was set, the turkey was in the oven, and my side dishes were humming along, and all was well, when a rap at the front door tore me from the kitchen.  I wasn’t expecting guests yet.  Opening it, I saw it was Michael, the groundskeeper who, with his brother Ron, work the property for the landlords, who live several hours away. Michael and Ron have been wonderfully helpful in teaching us the ins and outs of rural life here in South Wales. 

From them I learned that the sheep in the adjacent fields had been prepared for “tupping” (mating) the month before and little lambs would dot the pastures in January.  That the mud nests of the house martins, left behind in the eaves while their occupants winter in Africa, shouldn’t be hosed down as they are a symbol of blessings on the house.  They tried, many times, to educate us as to how to build a lasting fire in the wood burner that warms the outbuilding adjacent to the pig pens adjacent to our cottage.  They fix things for us.  Trim our herb garden when it needs it.  Cut back the lavender.  They take wonderful care of us and don’t laugh when their dumb American tenants ask stupid questions. 

Michael stood in the doorway and shyly presented me with a beautifully decorated bag and announced “It’s a present.  For you”.  I was in shock.  “But, why” I asked.  “Because it’s Thanksgiving” was his only reply.  He then disappeared before I could wipe the mist gathering in my eyes.

I opened the bag.  Inside, snuggled in the middle of layers of tissue, laid the most magnificent china tea cup I had ever seen. Decorated with a painting of the Mayflower, it was produced by the noted British company Aynsley in 1970, in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts.   A verse about the pilgrims decorated the back of the mug, and the American flag peeked out from the china handle.  How he’d come across it, I wasn’t able to ask, but not only did he give it to me, he understood the significance of the day and like a true Indian, gave.  

Was I touched?  More than I’ve ever been in many years.  Michael had no idea how his gift brought home the meaning of Thanksgiving to this American living “across the pond”.  Just as the Indians welcomed the pilgrims from Britain, the British warmly welcomed this pilgrim.  What goes around…

The story of the Pilgrims. We were the Pilgrims this year as our Welsh friends shared our bounty of their friendship!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Sal Davis permalink
    December 3, 2010 3:05 pm

    Glad to hear you had a happy day. I must admit that I’m quite thankful not to have to do the two turkey dinners so close to each other, but Thanksgiving is a good time to pause and take stock.

    Enjoy the lambs when they come. It’s such an exciting time of year.

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