A Pagosan’s Thanksgiving Story by Nurse Ruth Vance
Cover image by Jeff Marzec.
A First Thanksgiving by Ruth Vance
I suspect most people can’t remember their first Thanksgiving, but I sure can! I grew up in India as a child of missionary parents. After I started school most of my year was spent away from them in a boarding school high up in the Himalayan Mountains, where my teachers and the staff were English and not real big on American celebrations or food. As the school was so high in the mountains our summer recess was in the winter. I was sometimes with my parents lower in the western desert or traveling to see them at Thanksgiving time.
Most of our non Indian – non English meals were the result of mission support groups in the states sending us “care packages.” These were a great help but all of the food was highly preserved and canned and not very tasty. I don’t remember ever having turkey.
When I graduated from high school I traveled to Dallas, Texas to attend nursing school. What a change this was and it allowed me to begin familiarizing myself with American culture and food.
The culture shock, food and my age produced my first facial complexion problems and I went to a dermatologist. Here I met Sharon Tennison, the nurse for the doctor. As it was near Thanksgiving, she invited me for her celebration which included the meal and an assortment of interesting people. This was an annual event for Sharon and I became one of her “interesting people.”
I was overwhelmed with the people and the smells as I walked through the door of her home. The big table was already loaded with fresh baked and cooked food and activity in the kitchen indicated there was much more to come.
When it did come and the table and nearby shelves were overloaded with things I had only dreamed about, I had another moment of culture shock. I had to reflect on all of my previous years and experiences seeing adults and children in the streets of India begging for scraps of food, the grossly undernourished leprosy victims who came and hung on the steel gates of my parent’s compound and all of the other memories of living in a very poor third world country.
After a Thanksgiving prayer we all dug in with gusto, savoring tastes and delights I had never had before. Succulent turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and GRAVY (Oh that wonderful GRAVY) along with a host of other new and unknown tastes – it was an amazing and welcome experience. Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, whipped cream: this was a meal for kings! My first Thanksgiving is one I will never forget.
Epilogue: I later married Sharon’s brother, Norman Vance, editor at Pagosa.com. Sharon later became a vegetarian and took on the task of bringing American aid and business support to the Russian people by creating a service organization.