When you grow up in a bi-cultural family, you tend to seek any connections to one side or the other. There may be different Saturday-morning cartoons or different types of food in rotation, but it's holidays that provide an entrance into a culture, if you know all the roles. For me, Thanksgiving was the quintessential American holiday.
My Thanksgivings are not memories of gourmet dinners. We had the sliced cranberry that jiggles, stuffing that comes from a box, a turkey nicknamed Tom and as much mashed potatoes — recently peeled and cooked — as I could stuff into my mouth before I sat down and ate my weight in pumpkin pie and Cool Whip. Aside from the taters, those components never showed up during the rest of the year.
A few times, we turned on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the background — if we were on the right side of the planet to have it running during the day. When we would travel to visit my grandparents in Germany during the holidays, my Oma would call Thanksgiving "Turkey Day" and mostly allowed the strange food we'd bring from the commissary hundreds of kilometers away.
She would, however, insist on a better gravy.
I am the only child and the only niece, and I was the only grandchild. That was the scope of my roles in my small family. The idea of a kids' table mystified me until recently when my kids and my brother-in-law's kids were old enough to sit alone. We could finally sit and drink wine without a chubby arm knocking a glass over in a mad grab for taters. (Some things may be hereditary.)
Over the years, my Thanksgiving role expanded to wife, mother, daughter-in-law and the white American at a Mexican table. I had to represent something that I felt I had only dabbled in, something that may have pulled me closer to my American father but made me an envoy for novel experiences to my German family.
I realized quickly that I might fill a similar role in my husband's family. The first time my father-in-law ever spoke to me, he asked, "Why do Americans eat so much sugar?"
You got me, dude. Tell me about why you drench everything in salsa. (That, turns out, is a trait that can be acquired.)
I won't lie about my dismay at some of the changes I saw at their table. They included local or family-requested additions: a huge order of seafood-filled paella; pasta with red sauce; enough roasted jalapenos to clear any sinus issues; and, to my horror, a duck instead of my beloved Tom the Turkey one year.
I can't entirely blame them, as they were only dabbling in the stereotypes of the holiday.
This year, we have to find new roles at our house because the mere hourlong drive into El Paso, Texas, is not worth the risk. Their city is one of the worst infected by the coronavirus in the nation. And here in New Mexico, we're back to shutdown restrictions, with big-box stores shutting down on Thursday and some hourlong lines at grocery stores, where capacity is capped at just 75 people.
I panic-shopped this year's Tom a few days ago just in case -- in the same store where I had my first covid panic-shopping experience, with lines similarly long as they were back in March. This time, however, everyone knew their roles, standing at a 6-foot distance, with masks and an inevitable resignation that a squabble between distinct American cultures had changed what this holiday looks like for all of us.
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma (sorry, Cassie) and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at