I was in the Army in November of 1971. My duty station was just outside New York City, which was about a million miles from home, or so it seemed.
Back then, the military hadn’t gone all volunteer, so they still paid slave wages to privates, and I couldn’t afford a plane ticket home.
For the first time in my life, I couldn’t spend Thanksgiving with my family.
I’d dreaded the phone call home to my mom. Holidays were a BIG deal to her, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I heard her voice crack when I told her I couldn’t come home. She put up a good front, but she could not hide the sadness in her voice.
She’d spend weeks cooking pecan pies, banana-nut bread, and enough sweets to send blood-sugar levels of the entire community through the stratosphere.
Even now when I close my eyes, I can smell the aroma her kitchen during holidays. It was Heaven’s kitchen.
I’m usually the one lifting the spirits of those around me, but I can tell you the week of Thanksgiving in 1971, my spirits were sagging.
We had a married guy in our unit, and he invited several of us to his house for the holiday.
Most of the other guys in my unit who lived across the country couldn’t go home either because they were as broke as the Ten Commandments too, so we accepted the invitation.
He came from German roots so his wife’s idea of a Thanksgiving feast was a lot different from that of my family.
A large part of my culinary choices up to that point was choosing between butter beans and cornbread, or pinto beans and biscuits, but I was willing to try German food.
His wife welcomed us into their home and fetched us some German beer to get things rolling.
They scheduled the meal for mid-afternoon, so the guys sat in the living room and watched football.
She’d prepared rouladen, which is a kind of beef rollup, a chicken dish, some wiener schnitzel, sauerkraut, and several other dishes I couldn’t name.
I’d never want to hurt anyone’s feeling, so I tried a little of everything. The rouladen was really good, and I loved the pastries, but some of the stuff I didn’t eat and left it hidden under my napkin when we finished.
I was grateful to my friend for inviting me so that I didn’t have to spend a homesick Thanksgiving alone.
Since our parents died, Thanksgiving has changed for Jilda and me. In years past, we helped serve the needy.
There was something about serving those less fortunate that took our minds off how much we missed our parents.
This year we decided to stay home and cook dinner. Jilda’s a great cook and it will be fun sharing that special day with loved ones.
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the many blessings in my life.
I’m grateful for our family, and friends who are actually people we chose to be in our extended family.
I’m grateful that even though Jilda has to take monthly treatments to maintain her health, we still manage to play music, travel, and do the things we love.
I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but what I wouldn’t give to have a piece of my mama’s pecan pie.
Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Happens is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.