I first moved away from home the first week of November, 1993 (best birthday present I ever gave T). I had friends from college whose parents lived in Suburban DC and they were kind enough to invite me into their homes for the holiday.
All week I did my happy food dance. At last, a night without ramen. A night without hotdogs or mac and cheese. Every time a commercial came on with a succulent turkey or steaming mashed potatoes, I'd become nearly light-headed with anticipation.
Finally the day arrived. I took the Metro out to Vienna and my friend P picked me up and took me back to his parents' place. We hung out, played with his new computer and generally caught up until his mother called us for dinner. We started up the stairs (his room was in the basement) and I wrinkled my nose. I didn't smell any turkey but I didn't think anything of it - maybe their kitchen's exhaust system was better than at home.
We all sat around the table, gave thanks and started on salad. Again, not what I was used to. At home, 'Turkey Day' was about a table groaning under the weight of food, me dodging the sweet potatoes/yams/whatever orange veggie it was, and fighting with my dad over the drumstick.
Again, I wasn't too suspicious. Maybe with such a large family instead of setting everything up on the table, they did it buffet style and we would go into the kitchen to load our plates with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and all the trimming.
Then his mother brings out a huge platter of pasta.
Alarm bells started going off.
It turns out, P's clan doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving the way I was used to. At all. The pasta and salad were wonderful as I recall, but all I can remember is the devastation of realizing I was going to be turkey free.
[Should P. ever read this, I just want to say that I'm still grateful that I was taken into their home for my first Thanksgiving away from my own. I'm simply saying that I was slightly taken aback at the menu.]
Fast forward a dozen years. I'm a couple of hours away from heading to my friend PP's house. This experience is a whole other can of worms. I went there for Thanksgiving last year and had a wonderful time. It's half family (though not mine) and half friends. A huge table groaning under to weight of way too much food, dogs stealing turkey, babies dropping cheerios (to be hoovered up by the dogs, as well). I can't wait.
Ultimately, I'm thankful for my health (such as it is), my friends, my family, my job, and the fact that there's a James Bond marathon on for the next 4 days. To anyone out there reading, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and fare the nasty hoiday travel with ease and patience.