When I think of Thanksgiving, I imagine sitting around my family’s dining room table, loading my plate with my mom’s turkey, stuffing and green bean casserole that I know my stomach doesn’t have the capacity to hold. My mouth waters as I patiently wait for my brother and my parents to finish dishing up and catch my dad sneaking bits of gravy-soaked turkey to our Great Dane. As a kid, the waiting to be given the all clear to dig in to my favorite meal of the year was almost as torturous as the countdown to Santa’s arrival.
Back then, Thanksgiving was all about the food. Not that Thanksgiving isn’t still about the food, because, believe me, later today I will be the first person in line to cover every inch of my plate with yummies (and the first person to go back for seconds and the first person to raise my hand for dessert and the first person to hit the leftovers). Food is definitely essential for Thanksgiving.
But not as essential as family.
I was a military spouse for many years before I realized the word family covered way more territory than simply those people who share my DNA. It took a Thanksgiving in Japan to help me discover my military family.
Thanksgiving was approaching. I never minded cooking a feast, but I always told my husband I wouldn’t pull out all the stops if we were the only adults at the table. It was too much trouble for two people. But he loves my turkey. So what did he do? That’s right. He started doling out invitations to justify the effort.
His enthusiasm was contagious, and I suddenly found myself extending invites as well. While he found lonely servicemembers who had nowhere else to go, I recruited military spouses whose husbands were deployed. Before we knew it, we had lost track of how many people we would be squeezing into our tiny house on base.
I bought the biggest turkey I could find at the commissary. I cooked for four days, preparing a feast like I had never prepared before. I put out munchies, chilled the wine and prayed we had enough plates. And as two dozen or so people trickled in and out of our front door throughout Thanksgiving day, some friends, some complete strangers, I knew I had found my military family.
That family came in all shapes and sizes. From the geo bachelor missing his wife’s Thanksgiving spread, to the Korean wife who had never seen a Thanksgiving spread, we welcomed everyone who showed up on our doorstep. Some of those people remain dear friends, some we hear from a couple times a year, and some I’ve never heard from again. But on that Thanksgiving day, we were a family, bonded by a loneliness for our relatives and family traditions back in the States, our military experiences, and, of course, a deep passion for turkey.
I haven't had a Thanksgiving like that since moving back to the States. I'm lucky enough that now I don't have to cross an ocean to spend a holiday with relatives. But I know that my military family would be right there waiting for me the next time I need them. The faces and scenery may look a little different, but the family remains the same.
Happy Thanksgiving to my military family!