In college, I only had to drive an hour to Thanksgiving. My family would all gather at my aunt’s house in Los Angeles, which was a hop, skip and three freeways away from campus. After uprooting my life and moving to DC, I still wanted to go visit my family for Thanksgiving. Seemed reasonable and easy enough. But then I logged on to Expedia, put in my dates and promptly spit out my drink. You want me to pay what? To go home for four days, where I will spend the majority of my time jet-lagged and avoiding conversations about my job situation because I am still teaching preschool and hoping the neither the price of rice nor beans increases because then I won’t be able to afford either?!
As I picked up the phone to inform my parents I wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving unless they could co-finance this cross-country sojourn, I realized there were some very important things Mr. Sorkin forgot to tell me:
1) Money Does Not Grow on Trees
Do you know why Sam, Josh, CJ and Toby where at the White House during Thanksgiving? Because it was too expensive to go home! It was not out of loyalty to the president or serving the American people. Nor were they concerned there might be some huge piece of legislation that the Senate was going to take up. No, it was just easier than dropping $800 on a flight to California where you will have to change planes in Chicago and inevitably get snowed-in and have to sleep on the floor of the airport. Instead, these guys sat around writing crime series about pilgrims who churn butter by day and solve crime by night. Seems believable, except no one got a call from their whole family asking why they wouldn’t be home. Yeah, that’s right. One speakerphone, the whole family.
2) Orphan Thanksgiving
Orphan Thanksgiving is not unique to DC. Tons of people all over the country have Orphan Thanksgiving. Gather your friends together, make awesome food and then talk about how your families do it different. On The West Wing, Orphan Thanksgiving consisted of beer, football, making CJ cook and avoiding having to spend it with the president. For my Orphan Thanksgiving, I was pretty sure the president didn’t care what I was doing for Thanksgiving nor was anyone going to ask me to cook (I know how to cook four things and one of those things is guacamole so I don’t think it really counts as “cooking”).
But do you know who showed up at my Thanksgiving? Graduate students from Latin America that my bureaucrat roommate invited. (“We’re not just having dinner with them, we’re representing America!” she said. Insert eye roll here.) Do you know how silly Thanksgiving sounds when describing it to a PhD candidate from Brazil after consuming half a bottle of wine? Ridiculous! “See, there were these people who left England, went to Holland and then came to the US, er, the New World, on some wooden boats…uh, because at the time, most boats were made of wood…as you know. They landed on this rock with no real survival skills, but super motivated by their bad feelings toward the pope and the Church of England. The Native people saved them and then they took all their land and gave them smallpox. Those were our ancestors. My roommate is actually a member of the Mayflower Society. That was her family that did that. Her family.” See?
3) The Turkey
The West Wing did a great job of teaching me that the Butterball Hotline was here for all my meat cooking needs and what the zip code is for Fargo, ND. I could just call them! They would have the answers to all of my questions. But do you know what it didn’t prepare me for? Coming downstairs and standing in stunned silence upon finding your roommates singing “I Believe I Can Fly” while cleaning the turkey, stretching out his small wings and holding him triumphantly over the sink. Aaron Sorkin never mentioned that could happen. He also failed to tell me that my locally-raised, hormone-free, free-range Amish turkey would not come with a name. On The West Wing the turkeys came with names, Troy and Eric. Troy didn’t like to be touched! And you had to support them by their hindquarters, whatever those are. Granted one of them was going home with a pardon, a quiet life in burbs and a lifetime supply of feed, while the other was going to end up on a dinner table in Manassas, but at least they had names! I had to let our turkey maintain some shred of dignity after being manhandled by my roommates, so I decided to name him. You might be wondering why I felt the need to do this for my sustainably-sourced, grass-fed, cage-less walkabout turkey, even if I hadn’t watched so much West Wing. Well, have you ever seen Portlandia? Before consuming him, I needed to know that the turkey had roamed free, as it was wont to do, that it had been happy and had turkey friends! The light in me sees the light in you.
4) The Proclamation
On The West Wing, Sam and Toby wrote the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. Experienced speechwriters took up the cause of Thanksgiving and made it sound like we were one big happy family and that my childhood elementary Thanksgiving Day celebrations were not a total lie. Mine sounds like Drunk History.
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