Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving reflections II

I’m just a tad frazzled at the moment, what with all that’s on my pre-holiday to-do list (and our girl comes home tomorrow! Hulō!), and for some crazy reason I scheduled three appointments today which have me driving all over Creation Honolulu. So perhaps it’s best for all of us if I just re-post a Thanksgiving reflection.

Here’s something I did about a year ago, when I was engaged in remembering people from my past:

She came from American aristocracy: her maiden name was Adams, and her family had been in this country for who knows how many generations. And she came from money; her father was a banker in San Francisco who had hobnobbed with the robber barons.

So she was accustomed to a certain way, not to mention quality, of life. I got my first glimpse of this when I, recently engaged to her grandson, was invited to Thanksgiving in her home. At just the right time, after a time of cocktails and polite chitchat on the lanai, we were asked to make our way to the dining room for dinner. That the table was lavishly set you can imagine; each place setting had multiple pieces of china, crystal, and silver to contend with. And a finger bowl.

Now, I was — am — no country bumpkin. My mother had schooled me well enough in etiquette in my growing-up years (and believe it or not, I got further instruction in college, of all places) that I knew which fork was which and that my bread plate was on the left and so forth. I also knew not to pick up my spoon and start on the soup course before the hostess did. But it was my very first encounter with finger bowls.

For people to whom appearances matter, how one conducts oneself in these types of social situations makes all the difference. It was clear to me that this was a whole new ball game, and while I definitely did not have the home field advantage, for my fiance’s sake, I had to step up. So I did.

Nonchalance was my middle name, but you better believe I was carefully watching the rest of the group, taking my cues from them. The staff, two elderly Japanese ladies in starched white dresses and aprons, came in with each course and served us individually, always from the left (recently I saw this played out briefly in “The Help” — did you catch it? when a maid tries to serve one of the white ladies from her right side, and the lady, with a frown, makes her shift over to the left).

I might have been just a split-second behind the rest of the group that night, but I think I gave a pretty seamless performance. I got thrown off slightly during the dessert course when Misayo was attempting to serve me hard sauce and I thought it was ice cream. I’d never seen hard sauce before. And frankly, I can’t recommend it.

Anyway, when it came time to use the finger bowl, I peeked under my lashes and watched Baba, then daintily dipped my own fingertips in the warm, flower-scented water. No one would ever have guessed it was my first time.

I was there again many times over the years, of course, and always behaved utterly appropriately; I knew what was expected of me in that situation. She never said anything — that wouldn’t have been her way — but I knew I had her approval. And for my part, I knew, though would never have told her: I wasn’t about to be intimidated by a little finger bowl.

photo credit: diplomatickitchen.com

I am hosting the dinner again this year, and definitely busting out the good china and silver, but sadly, there won’t be any finger bowls.

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Thanksgiving reflections I

The spring of my sophomore year in high school, one of my best friends, Gail, got word that her dad had been offered and had accepted a job that meant they would moving back to the mainland.

This was all fine and dandy with Gail’s two younger sisters and her parents, but it was not at all fine with Gail. And because it wasn’t with Gail, it wasn’t with me.

So the two of us hatched a plot. We decided that since by the fall of the next school year my older brother would have moved out to attend college in Indiana, Gail could just stay on in Hawaii and live in my house, thus being able to finish her last two years at our high school.

We arranged a meeting of the two families to talk this proposal over, and somewhat to our surprise, our parents agreed. (Then we left it to the four adults to work out the details of figuring out Gail’s room and board, and other arrangements we weren’t capable of wrapping our adolescent minds around.)

I have to digress for just a moment to say: Do you know anyone who would do this nowadays? Just leave their 15-year-old daughter to live with an unrelated family for two years, 5000 miles distant, and trust that everything would be all right? I don’t think I do. Still amazes me, 40 years later, that we pulled it off.

Anyway, although Gail and I were the same age and the same grade and both mostly easy-going individuals, our first couple months in this new arrangement were bound to have their rocky moments, and in fact they did. We struggled a bit to get along until finally we reached a pivotal point where, from then on, all was well.

It happened on Thanksgiving.

My memory’s a bit vague, but as I recall, we had spent the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving just sort of sniping at each other: not flat out fighting, but not really getting along all that great. I’m sure there were tears. My poor mom must have been wondering how she was going to manage cooking for a bunch of guests and at the same time be there for a hanai (foster) daughter who was spending her first Thanksgiving away from home and family.

One of the families that was invited to our home that year was the Wilsons*. Mrs. Wilson was a colleague of my mom’s, and had what you might call a splenetic personality: she seemed to be perpetually in a state of ill-humor. At least that was our teenage perspective; I’m sure she was probably a totally decent, happy person.

Anyway, we were barely into the first course when Mrs. Wilson, after asking several questions about our temporary adoption arrangement, pronounced that it would never work: “By the end of the two years, they most certainly won’t still be friends,” was I think how she put it.

Gail and I looked at each other. At that moment, we could see in each other’s eyes, we had the same thought. The two of us, not in any kind of athletic way, but in more of a psycho-emotional way, are deeply competitive. (I don’t have time to go into our online Scramble games; suffice to say that neither of us likes to lose to the other.) And the gauntlet had just been thrown.

We determined then and there that no matter what, we would stick together and make this thing work, if for no other reason than to prove Mrs. Wilson wrong. I’m sure Mrs. Wilson had no idea that she became the motivation for the success of our relationship going forward. But that day, with our plates before us piled up with turkey and trimmings (because we had also planned some sort of challenge to out-eat each other — competitive; told you), was the beginning of Gail and me becoming not just best friends, but sisters.

Because in the end — and we had a private little commemorative moment on our graduation day — we could proudly tell Mrs. Wilson or anybody that we had weathered those two years and most certainly were still friends. Now, every Thanksgiving day, Gail and I make a point to call each other to say Happy Thanksgiving, and we always remember Mrs. Wilson and the challenge she put before us, and how it changed everything.

Happy Thanksgiving, Sister!

*names changed to protect the not-so-innocent