My parents emigrated to this country in 1951 from Poland. They survived World War II as fighters in the underground resistance and internment in a prisonor-of-war camp in Germany.
Although I currently live in a mecca for people of Polish heritage (Chicago), I actually grew up in Los Angeles where there is not a large Polish population. Thus, my mother had to fend for herself and learn through her children, my brother and me, about these curious American traditions.
My parents embraced America - although they spoke Polish at home, they learned English quickly and applied for American citizenship as soon as they were able. My father returned to school to finish his studies for an engineering degree and my mother had two kids and stayed home to raise us.
Thanksgiving stumped her. She never really liked to cook, but to spend all day fussing over a large bird was something she put off as long as she could. But as we kids grew up and started talking turkey, bringing home pilgrim cutouts and recipes for sweet potatoes, she knew she had to figure this thing out.
The perfect solution for her was a recipe she found somewhere that suggested cooking the turkey all day at a very low temperature. No fuss at all - just buy it, clean it, and stick it in the oven for 12 hours. This bombshell of a recipe resulted in a withered, brown lump that my parents served with great ceremony. Really. No stuffing, no gravy, no cranberry, no pumpkin. Just lots of potatoes. Oh, and some stewed cabbage and beets.
And so it went for many years. We celebrated Thanksgiving, just the four of us, understanding as we got older that it wasn't native to them. But their children were Americans now and needed to partake in American holidays, no matter how alien it might feel to them. I didn't have gravy or cranberry sauce until I was well into my twenties but I never missed it. Cornbread or stuffing were not served but we didn't notice that either.
We were a family, part old world, part new, that felt what the Pilgrims must have felt in those early days: that good gravy and some tart cranberries would go a long way to make a dry old bird taste better!
Happy Thanksgiving to all!