by Cheryl Sternman Rule

Each November, everywhere you look, glossy magazines focus on Thanksgiving food: the turkey, the sides, the desserts. And that’s all wonderful, and important, but let me tell you something: the people who sit around the table, wherever that table may be, are the ones who make Thanksgiving memorable.

Fourteen years ago, my husband Colin and I served as Peace Corps volunteers in the East African nation of Eritrea. That November, come Thanksgiving, we hopped a bus and traveled from our little house in Decamhare to the town of Keren to gather at the home of two friends.  All around the country, our fellow volunteers did the same–some rode rickety busses for three hours, some for eight, some for even longer. Although we were stationed far apart, we made the effort to celebrate the holiday together.

I recently emailed these old Peace Corps friends to ask them what they recall about our Thanksgivings in Africa and was struck by how wildly their memories varied. It was fun to piece together their reminiscences, and to spur a collective sense of nostalgia for such a unique time in all of our lives.

Here’s what they shared: Sarah says she thought our country director imported a turkey from Germany, although Devra claims it was from South Africa. Jannett isn’t convinced there was a turkey at all. “Did we actually have meat?” she asked.  Kristen remembers her feelings about the spread without recalling specific foods. “I was beside myself at the variety and selection of food.  Never has a Thanksgiving feast been so incredibly appreciated.”

Julie’s memories go to the following Thanksgiving, when we gathered at Adam’s house in Nefasit. She remembers that one group headed up the mountain to Debre Bizen, an ancient monastery, while others hung back to prepare the meal. She recalls dancing outside “in front of the fire, which meant we had music–Adam was good for always having music.” For his part, Adam remembers “going around Nefasit trying to get as much charcoal as I could find, which ended up being quite a lot. I remember there was lots of cooking going on during the day, but I can’t remember what we were cooking.”

And therein lies the most important nugget, the gem, really, of Thanksgiving. For all our focus on the food, on making it perfect, or beautiful, or right, the food is not what people remember. People remember the feelings of fellowship, and if my friends are any indication, they remember those feelings with tremendous joy. This is true no matter where you were, and what you may, or may not, have eaten.

So this year, reach out to friends and family from Thanksgivings past. Reconnect, reminisce, and be grateful for their presence in your life.

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Cheryl Sternman Rule is a food and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, including EatingWell and Body+Soul. She is the voice behind the food blog 5 Second Rule.


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