Our Swabian Thanksgiving was as good as any, and by pure chance a real Yankee Doodle turkey prevailed -- al- though we didn't get any of it. My wife and I had hove the brood from the nest and had taken off in our new freedom for a leisurely visit to Europe, traveling Montreal to Hamburg on a crusty old freighter that had limped tediously from August into September. She was a German vessel, so we had nearly two weeks to practice our bitesm and gutenTags,m and there had been time besides to teach the chief engineer to play cribbage. If you've ever taught cribbage to anybody, this indicates the moderate six-knot perseverance of the MV Wolfgang Russ.m
Thanksgiving Day was our first occasion to experience a yearning for home, and we thought of the happy family feasts we'd had in our Maine farmhouse. We were at the Hotel Stern in Waiblingen, a typical German family-run inn with what we came to call the brown-gravy smell and what the Germans call gemutlichkeit.m The inn, I'm told, has disappeared in some kind of urban refurbishment; Waiblingen is not far from Stuttgart. WE came down for breakfast and the landlady, a pleasingly plump and yellow-haired war widow, executed the Germanic breakfast miracle of producing the four-minute boiled egg in 15 seconds. WE never found out how they do this. "Today," i told her, "is Thanksgiving Day at home."
"Dankfest!"m she exclaimed.
Then she saidM in German, "I understand everybody eats turkey." Truthahn is a turkey. WE explained that the turkey is a native American bird, and that he became our Thanksgiving specialty because he was wild in the vicinity of Plymouth and available. "I've never seen a turkey," she said.
After breakfast we strolled the streets of Waiblingen, going into shops that attracted us, and behold! we came to a real American-style self-service market that was having a big opening day. It was a strange thing to encounter in the old town, but there it was. Balloons for the children, extra trading stamps with every purchase. Even to the checkouts. We went in, and we might just as well have been in our hometown shopping center, except that on thanksgiving no stores there would be open. Almost in the center of this new store -- now being cautiously appraised by German customers with their string bags -- was a frozen foods case of poultry. The truth! There were a half dozen Virginia Truthahns,m sterile in their plastic wrappers, priced in DM and weighed in kilos. I don't even try to convert -- I took the biggest turkey and passed the cashier a traveler's check.
We found that oven-roasted meats were not all that usual in Germany. We thought they were a top-of-the-stove people. So we wondered what our pleasingly plump landlady would do with a roasting turkey now that she had one.We tried to tell her about stuffing, and boiled onions, and squash, and mashed potatoes, and turnip, and even mince pie, but we could see that the refinements of our American Dankfestm were not coming over to her. No way could we translate our Black Mogul kitchen range on Thanksgiving morning.The frozen turkey plocked on the counter and she watched it with an air of expecting it to jump at her. Bratofen?"m she asked, and we got at least that far. She was delighted to see a Truthahn,m glad to own a Truthahn,m and we went to our room. We never knew what she did with our turkey, how she prepared it, or who ate it. Or what anybody thought about it.
But the minute we went upstairs, she scouted to find somebody with English, and soon thereafter a knock came to our door and a small boy handed us a note which we cherish:
Please. Six hours. Schicken.
We thus came down at six and found a table saved for us. A small bouquet in the middle was prop for a card: "Happy German Thanksgiving!" The dining room was already well filled, and we knew at once that everybody had been told the why of our presence. Everybody rose and bowed, and a few with English came to shake hands and wish us good appetite. Our landlady brought plates of top-of-the-stove chicken, which was delicious, and enought "with-its" so we made out. Dessert was a strudel, and for once I didn't have to decide between mince and punkin.