I have been going to and teaching in Australia since the 1990s, a chain broken by Covid. Often twice a year. I have friends in many cities that hosted me coast to coast. I have a very special place in my heart for the people I know there and Australia in general. I knew that I had to get my then wife Jane down there to meet them and see Oz. She went with me several times for a month and one year, a two-month long trip. These trips were adventures in rental cars and sometimes we had to fly. Jane called much of it “Windshield Tourism“ because we had had drive from city to city, weekend to weekend. We “freestyled” saw…a…whole…lot.
One year we went in October and November and over a Thanksgiving. Being that far away from the USA, the American holidays don’t loom. On Thanksgiving Day, we stopped in a smaller town and stayed in a rather primitive, worker’s-style hotel that had a hot plate, a fridge and a microwave, all in the short hallway of the single room. With that were a few crappy, dishes and silverware.
We had enough time to walk about the downtown area and wandered into a grocery store where Jane got the idea that while we could not have a turkey, we could at least have chicken and some vegetables for Thanksgiving.
I said, “How can you make all that with a crusty old hot plate and that nasty old ancient microwave in the small hallway of our room?”
She knew how. She proceeded to buy the ingredients. We returned to the motel, and she started in with milk, eggs and flour she breaded chicken thighs and prepped the vegetables (by the way, the veggies in Australia are science-fiction-huge!) We bought some Australian wine, which y’all should try.
When it was all done, we had our Thanksgiving dinner in this little motel room. It was way more than delicious. It was amazing, as she was amazing. I declared then and there that this was my best Thanksgiving ever. It wasn’t turkey, but it didn’t have to be. We even had to eat in bed because there were no tables or a desk. But it was still so special, spontaneous and perfect. Years later, it was and still is my best Thanksgiving ever. A magic day in a magic time and place with a magic person.
I lost Jane last July from a sudden heart attack, after 30 unforgettable rich, adventurous, deep years. Are there enough adjectives? I’ll run out of them. I was ripped from reality. I am very close to her daughter Sherry, and we worried about the upcoming holidays of which Jane was always such a brilliant foundation. Sherry asked me was there anything special she could make for me, for our upcoming Thanksgiving. I am not a desert guy, and I just couldn’t think of anything at the moment. But a day later, I thought about this…the baked chicken memory. Of course! I told her. She looked at me funny at first, but then she remembered the story I have told probably way too many times. So, yes, at her house many are coming and there will be the usual turkey and sides, but she is also also making me breaded chicken thighs.
Thanksgiving Day will be a real tough one. Some say they all will be from now on, to some level, no matter what else happens. I could see that. And oh no, not just for me, but for so many who have lost others from age, health, crime and war.
Past, Present. Future. You know Zen is not a religion, it’s a philosophy. Zen wants you to concentrate and live in the moment as much as possible along with solving some riddles. And when folks say Grace before a meal, they are stopping time. Freezing it, slowing things down, and saying-appreciating the moment, the luck, the joy, the irony that we somehow have some damn food in front of us in this crazy world, along with…somehow…at holiday times like these, people we love, like and know around us.
We can stop the clock for just one precious moment. It might be those valuable moments that gets you through life. May you have many such valuable moments, like a simple makeshift meal in a cheap hotel, or a festive gathering, or maybe just days, hours, or minutes of “windshield tourism,” if even just a trip around your town.
And that’s my greatest Thanksgiving story. I suspect it will remain so for the…duration. And hey, do try some of that Australian wine, why don’t cha?