Thanksgiving this year was exceptionally busy. Not that I'm complaining - it was just surprising how dense that fourth Thursday of November suddenly became. On Sunday, I didn't have any concrete plans, figuring I'd just wing it. But by Wednesday, I had committed to being at four different places in two different cities. Alas, I have always been an overachiever.
First up was Operation Turkey in downtown Austin. It's an annual event where hundreds of volunteers gather to make and deliver thousands of Thanksgiving meals to the city's less fortunate. It's a wonderful cause, and when my friend, Kylie, asked me to join her, I thought, "Why not?" But to be completely honest, when my alarm went off at 7:30am Thursday morning, sleepy, grumpy Jonathan was cursing happy, agreeable Jonathan. But I am a man of his word, so after finally escaping the warmth of my bed, I made my way downtown.
|Cars waiting to receive boxes of Thanksgiving meals to deliver.|
|The line of volunteers wrapping around the block and up the street.|
I had never been to an Operation Turkey, and I only had a rough idea of where it was being held. But as soon as I turned up Sixth Street and saw the line of cars two blocks long with their flashers on and the line of people snaking around the corner, I knew I was in the right place. The sheer amount of people there made me happy and glad to be able to help in some small way, regardless of the fact that I am not a morning person. I am a helping person, and that's what Operation Turkey needed.
|A finished Thanksgiving meal packed and ready to share.|
Next stop was San Antonio, where my good friends Rob and Sciovahn and their two beautiful children (aka my"foster family") were having a lunchtime Thanksgiving gathering. On Monday, Rob had engaged me in Facebook chat regarding my Thursday plans. He wanted me to come down and surprise Sciovahn, Fiona, and Sammy, 'the giant baby.' How could I possibly say "No" to that?
So mum was the word as I made the familiar drive back down to San Anto. To catch you up and explain why I call them my "foster family," from April to July I had lived with them while rehearsing and performing Terrence McNally's "Corpus Christi." So much happened in those four months, ranging from the birth of Sammy (the aforementioned 'giant baby'), the history-making run of the show, and the break that allowed me to finally start The Canary Files. In the months since, while I had hoped to be less of a stranger, work and acting commitments intervened. So I saw this as a beautiful opportunity to visit a family that had given me so many reasons to be thankful.
There are three things I won't forget about that gathering. First, the way both Sciovahn and Fiona screamed when I walked in the door. Next, discovering that 'giant baby,' in fact, means 'giant baby.' And three, the Beatles' greatest hits playing in the background and Fiona exclaiming, "How could anyone not like the Beatles?" Wise words from a five-year old.
|Meet Princess Fiona.|
|Think there's enough food?|
|Ladybug Fiona, Sammy, and Sciovahn. FYI - he's 5 months old.|
It was awesome to be back in the house, and even though there were dozens more people there who I didn't know and a huge spread of food that was mostly off-limits to me, I felt like belonged. I was just so happy to simply be there and be a guest at their Thanksgiving.
|Picture this x 4.|
While I didn't have much variety on my plate, I did eat a LOT of turkey, duck, vegetables, and fruit salad - probably more than I should have given the impending drive back to make it in time for the next gathering. So food coma Jonathan said his goodbyes with multiple hugs to his "foster family," and got back on the road. By the way, a belly full of turkey and more than an hour's drive while the sun is setting is not smart. Just saying.
I was accompanying Amy, one of the owners of The Steeping Room, to the next gathering at her friend, Elizabeth's, house. I had been asked to provide dessert, so I made a quick stop at home to change and pick up the cake, and then it was off to pick up Amy.
It was a much smaller, more intimate gathering than the one I had just been to. It was just Elizabeth, her husband, Colin, their daughter, Tesla, and Amy and I. Amy had given them the heads up regarding my dietary constraints, so Colin, the chef of the house, made sure that just about everything was safe for me to eat. And beyond safe, it was delicious and so appropriate given the season. The sound of silent, concentrated eating at our table of foodies spoke volumes. The caramelized brussel sprouts were my favorite, though I have to admit the lightly blanched green beans with toasted almonds and fresh garlic gave them a run for their money.
|Making friends with Jackie, their domesticated gentle giant.|
|Canned cranberry sauce done two ways. :)|
|Only x 2 this time. Had to save room for one more party.|
I was nervous when it came to the final course, wondering if my contribution would hold up given the bar that had been set. But when Tesla finished off not only her plate but her mother's as well, I had my answer.
Having learned my lesson from the drive back to Austin, I consented when Colin asked if we wanted to stay and play Rock Band. While I'd heard a lot about Guitar Hero and Rock Band, I'd actually never played either game, so my curiosity was peaked. But when "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" started playing and I learned that it would be Beatles Rock Band, it felt like too much of a coincidence. Apparently, the Beatles and Thanksgiving go together.
I laughed to myself as I recalled what Fiona had said earlier.
|Hazelnut Banana Cake garnished with Spiced Ambrosia Apple|
Around 10, it came time for me to depart for the final Thanksgiving destination that day, so I passed the drumsticks off and Amy and I said our goodbyes. And after dropping Amy off, I made my way across deserted highways to the east side and the home of Brian, one of my coworkers, and his girlfriend, Laura. There was still a small group of people and still a surprising amount of food. Both of them are vegan, so when I saw an enormous half-carved bird on the table, I did a double-take, wondering if it was craftily made out of tofu. It turned out to be a giant chicken, which also made me do a double-take. The size of your average turkey, 'giant chicken' really means 'giant chicken.'
Even though I had insisted that Brian not go to any extra trouble to accommodate me, especially given the time I would be arriving, he counter-insisted on making most of the food gluten-free. Which I was extremely grateful for, because as it turns out I was still hungry.
|I don't typically eat chocolate, but I had to make an exception for Laura.|
I had yet another Thanksgiving meal of roasted root vegetables, pickled okra and cauliflower, Laura's raw cheesecake, and Brian's besan-encrusted tempeh with a red wine reduction and cashew cream sauce. Delicous, and even moreso because of the intentions behind it. And as I enjoyed my colorful plate of food, Brian passed around a platter of gluten-free and vegan oatmeal raisin cookies I had made. If people had seen all the plates of food I had eaten that day lined up next to each other, they would probably be both shocked and maybe more than a little disturbed. I have the metabolism of a bird and the appetite of a sumo wrestler, what can I say?
With the exception of Laura, we all had to be at work bright and early the next morning, so while were enjoying ourselves, the grown-ups within us acknowledged that all good things must come to an end. We all chipped in to help pack up food and clean up and then it was goodbye and off to our respective homes and warm beds. Looking at my clock as I got in my car, the reality sunk in that I had been going at it for 14 hours straight. But as bleary-eyed and exhausted as I was, I was still giddy from a day fit to burst with love, laughter, and sharing. And above all, gratitude.
Until then, have an amazing weekend and remember that while Thanksgiving may only happen once a year, every day is an opportunity to live a grateful and gracious life. Do your best to share that with the world around you.