I haven’t seen too many situations where people beg to be allowed to give thanks. But living overseas in South America, in the highlands of Bolivia, my Food for the Hungry office friends asked one year if we could celebrate a full American Thanksgiving dinner – for SIXTY people. Six-oh.
Those of us of the blue-passport-with-the-eagle persuasion thought, hey, let’s try it. Most of us had fed eight to ten people before, so 60 meant with six helpers, we could do it.
In my household, where my roommate had far superior cooking skills that she loved to share, we went at it with gusto. We decided to make pumpkin pie from absolute scratch, seeing as we had no alternative. So after church on Wednesday evening, we started cutting apart local pumpkins.
Lesson #1: Do not attempt scratch pumpkin pie without a food processor. We ended up smashing pumpkin innards with a potato masher. And smashing. And more smashing. We finished the pies about 2 a.m.
Lesson #2: Pumpkins in some countries are pretty darned stringy. See lesson #1. Without the food processor, your pie filling looks like little orange worms.
So we slept for a couple of hours, and arose to tackle the main course. We had three other turkeys scheduled for preparation that day, in ovens scattered all over town. When I say “turkey,” you need to picture the whole bird. It comes with the neck, beak and feet accompanying the giblets. And usually there are quite a few stubborn feathers to pluck out. And, some stuff hanging around the turkey rear end that can make you really sick if you don’t wipe it off. We cleaned it (bleach was employed), stuffed it, and shoehorned the bird into our little Chinese oven. This culinary beauty was powered with a propane tank like you’d use on an outdoor grill, but older and pretty sketchy in the valve department. The oven knob had three baking temperatures (low, medium, high). So we hung a thermometer in the oven and prayed to God that it would indeed hit the requisite interior temperature, so we wouldn’t poison my whole office.
As the afternoon wore on, our turkey roasting team started calling each other….”Is yours done yet?” And finally we got the word. It was time to commence Operation Spread Thanksgiving to the Andes. My roomie and I wrapped our turkey within an inch of its life, took it down seven flights of stairs, and hailed a cab to get us to the office.
Our worries of wormy pie rejection or white meat poisoning vanished as our colleagues dug into the meal. They didn’t just eat, they inhaled the food, even the dishes they didn’t recognize. It was a cook’s dream, to make so many people happy.
And they gave thanks not only to God, but for the opportunity to work with Americans so they could celebrate with us. It was a genuine sentiment, of wishing they could have a national day of thanks to the One True God, in a country where many worship the gods of the sun, and soil, and lightening, and the underworld. I still hear echoes of the prayers in my head sometimes, even now back on my home soil, and remember that Thanksgiving Day is indeed a privilege to celebrate.