Waking up early on a crisp, cool autumn morning, I was always full of excitement and anticipation for Thanksgiving, my favorite part of November growing up. Thanksgiving felt like the first step on the ladder to Christmas time for me. Spirits seem generally lighter, everyone gets along just a little bit better and the food is absolutely incredible.

My mother used to begin prepping and cooking certain dishes the night before Thanksgiving. She would stand over the oven for hours pouring her heart into her cooking and prepping the turkey that my father would fry the next morning. I observed her techniques and assisted her like a little sous chef, chopping vegetables and gathering other ingredients for her until all the prep that could possibly be done had been finished. We would then go to sleep and get up bright and early the next day to complete preparations for our Thanksgiving feast.

I always put on my best clothes, did my makeup and fixed my hair. I would help my mother in the kitchen until there was nothing left for me to do and then I would go into the living room and watch the Thanksgiving Day parade as my other family members began to congregate. The smell of casseroles and pies danced before our noses as our mouths watered with anticipation. Mother would yell from the kitchen, “It’ll just be a few more minutes y’all!” and we would linger around the kitchen counter awaiting her permission to dig into the amazing spread laid before us. Once we were given the go ahead, everyone would fill their plates and we would eat and talk about everything that had been going on with our lives lately. We would joke around, laugh and watch movies together until our eyes eventually grew heavy. Late into the evening we would hug and say our heartfelt goodbyes, until next time.

This year I cannot be with my family in the United States but I have my own family here in Misawa with my husband and our two cats. While stationed here we invite our friends and those with no place to go to spend Thanksgiving with our little family.

Like my mother, I begin prepping the night before and finish off the meal the next morning. Feelings of love and warmth envelope me as I recreate my favorite parts of my mother’s usual Thanksgiving spread. Instead of waiting for family members to pile in, I watch as friends and coworkers come through the door with smiles on their faces and their Thanksgiving favorites in their hands.  We put together each diverse dish to create the most unique Thanksgiving feast. “It’ll just be a few more minutes y’all!” I yell from the kitchen. Everyone begins to gather around as I set the final dish on the counter. Plates and cutlery are passed to each person as we talk about the dishes we made and what they mean to us. We eat each other’s contributions to the dinner and reminisce about past celebrations at each person’s home. We joke around and laugh as we play Mario Kart and watch movies together. Once everyone has had their fill and said their final goodbyes, I fall into my couch with a deep sigh. I am exhausted but feel accomplished and thankful for the wonderful people whom I had the pleasure to entertain. I used to dream of one day being able to cook my heart out for a family of my own and now my wish has come true. I have genuinely found a way to enjoy all my favorite parts of my home away from home.

By Hailey Robertson