Caridad's Entry #3

"Sharing Americana"

Caridad gettin' her braids on in Livingston

Thanksgiving Day!

Today started out grumpy again-screaming children and a room with no sunlight tend to affect me that way. I grumbled my way into my clothes and went out to wait for a bus around 6:30 a.m. Grumpy as I was, I still knew I had a mission: to shop for Thanksgiving dinner.

The trip to the Huehuetenango supermarket was a bit stressful, since I had to figure out how to make things like stuffing in a country that’s never heard of pilgrims. And careful as I was, the pie I bought still got smashed on the bus ride home.

I got back to San Juan and expected to be scolded for being late or wearing rasta braids or having dirt on my pants. Instead, the family was really happy to see me. Candy and Vicki left the market to help me prepare the food, and I was amazed at how quickly and well it went. We chopped apples, bananas and pineapple for a fruit salad (which I mixed with sweet cream, sugar and coconut flakes. Mom would be proud). Then we peeled potatoes, boiled them and mashed them with a wooden tool of some kind. We added powdered milk, salt and butter and Vicki kept beating them until they were like clouds. Mmmmm. I told Vicki I was glad to be with her today because I always spend Thanksgiving cooking with my aunt Vicki. She smiled more today than I have ever seen. We tore french bread pieces into a pot and later mixed them with an onion sauce. I was amazed at how much it tasted like stuffing. I told them we needed to make corn, and asked how they liked it best. “Palomitas!” Maria said. So we made popcorn in a pan with oil—the fluffy white corn looks like doves to them.

I could tell that they were excited about the food, but realized they didn’t know the most important part: The whole family has to eat it together. I told them this and they shocked me with their enthusiasm. I had expected us to eat in the kitchen at different times, but they lowered all the tables and chairs to the patio so there would be room for all 19 of us to eat together. We used every dish in the house. Petrona pulled out some lovely tablecloths—one even had turkeys on it! Freddy helped the little girls arrange flowers on each table and he put on some music. Everything looked so nice that I threw a skirt on over my Doc Martens and long johns and a little makeup under my bandanna. I felt like I was ready for the prom!

By the time everything was arranged it was past 7 pm—usually the time they start unwinding for bed. But their enthusiasm didn’t wane. Gaspar stepped right up and read a verse from Thessalonians about how we should live our lives in prayer and give thanks in everything. Then he asked the family to pray, and boy-howdy did they pray! It is always so awesome to hear their prayers: “We thank you, God. You are our sole provider. You are the only thing that sustains us.” I heard Gaspar thanking God for my life, asking for blessings on my parents and for each person in his own family. Then he prayed for the widows, the drunks, the orphans, the truly needy. I am amazed by that man’s vision.

 I realized that I was the hostess, so I thanked them for everything they had given me—their home, their care, their joy. Everyone’s faces were so bright as I plopped food onto their plates. Amazingly, everyone seemed to like it. Petrona made a special point of showing me how much everyone was eating. “Esta rica,” she said. “Buena comida.” I told her it was the first time I had cooked this food without my mom, and she said, “Good job” (in Spanish). This is quite a compliment coming from a Q’anjob’al mother. Food is of utmost importance to them. Their phrase for “how are you” literally means, “How’s your stomach?”

 They asked me to tell the story of Thanksgiving, so I did—with great pleasure! I told them that when the English first came to North America they didn’t have anything. No food, no homes, nothing. But the indigenous people were there before them and they helped the English plant crops and start new lives (they especially enjoyed hearing this). Many of them died in the first year (I didn’t mention it was because they were fighting the Indians), but those who survived through the first harvest shared a dinner with turkey and corn and whatever else God had provided. The dinner was to say thanks to the Indians for their help, and thanks to God for their new lives. The family applauded when I finished. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such warm fuzzies about the pilgrims.

 I told them the rule of Thanksgiving is that you have to eat too much, and they ate most of what I cooked. Freddy and I both had third helpings. I was amazed at the way they embraced a holiday that came from another country. At the end of the meal were many sincere thank yous. Freddy and all of the little girls came and gave me hugs, and Herminda made little Felipe say, “Muchas gracias, Caridad” two or three times. They kept saying, “Gracias,” so I said, “Gracias por sus gracias!” and little Karen said, “Gracias que Usted vino”—thanks for coming here.

After the meal we went up to the kitchen and Petrona lit a box of fire on the floor to warm us up. I must have been having a great day because this didn’t phase me in the least. I was just glad to warm up and giggle with my sisters. Herminda asked me to describe an American wedding. They were all so interested, and I realized how much pride I do have in my own culture. Later I heard them talking about what size corte I might wear and how they might braid my short hair. They are receiving me in their family. For this, I am grateful.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad Thanksgiving. And there is something really special about spending it with my own family. But being a foreigner at this simple meal on a cold patio was probably the best Thanksgiving dinner I have ever experienced. I’m ending this day feeling more than thankful—I’m utterly surprised and joyful.