Salamat (Tagalog), Gracias (Spanish), Merci (French), Mabalos (Bicolano), Agyamanac (Ilocano), Arigato (Japanese), Sye Sye (Mandarin Chinese), Danke (German), Tack (Swedish), Spasibo (Russian), Shukriya (Urdu), Asante (Swahili), Efharisto (Greek), Thank you! (English)
– Aftermath of Genesis 11:1-8 (The Tower of Babel)
After roaming the aisles with a frantic crowd, and cursing that I missed an item for thenth time, I finally found the can of spices they wanted me to buy. On this month, more than fifteen years ago, I remember crowded parking spaces, consumers doing their last minute shopping, and sumptuous food embellished with all the fat we can imagine. We ate, we gobbled, and we cheered. We are in the season of the post Halloween delight, the teaser of the much awaited Yuletide light and the precursor of the Pilgrim’s plight.
Once upon a time, in the “De Villa” residence, Thanksgiving Day was spent in quite a special way. Back then, my in-laws just arrived from Bacolod. It was the first Thanksgiving celebration with a slightly larger crowd than just my wife, my son and myself. Like any good husband, my only role was to drive the car in and out of the garage and purchase whatever was forgotten from her list. Since cell phones were still a luxury, I had to no way to confirm or to ask about anything. So upon reaching and delivering the goods I was commissioned to buy, I was oftentimes sent back out again because there was something else I forgot. We had an early snow on one Thanksgiving Day. And I had to go in, go out and run around, while the ladies brewed whatever they could. It was cold. A simple “lugao” or “sabaw” could have consoled me. Mmmm, I mumbled that I craved “Tinola” for a change.
It took me more than seven trips to travel the aisles of Jewels, Dominick’s, and Unimart: potatoes, green beans, onions, beef, veal, ground pork, animal innards, assorted vegetables and Turkey of course. Yet all I could think of was the sweet aroma of grease sizzling with the crunchy fried skin of lechon kawale and krispy pata. I was all set to abandon my waistline, forget about calories and indulge myself with whatever was set on the table.
After the rites of culinary rituals, we held hands and asked for God’s blessings. I prayed to be spared from my usual dyspepsia. The scented aroma of gastric fumes engulfed my nares. While at the verge of grabbing my first piece of lechon, my mother in law told me to hold. She said that we should first start with soup. For a change, she thought that it would be good to try the Western way. Soup first, before anything else. So she gave each and everyone of us a big bowl of soup with some meat and leaves floating on the surface. Wow, I got my wish! Tinola is here. I have not had it for quite some time. And then I wondered, chicken was not a part of our menu. There was no fish. All the beef, the veal and the pork were either roasted, baked, garnished or fried. What could be in the Tinola?
I sipped the soup. I ate a piece of green papaya. I munched on the fresh “bokchoy”. Something warm was a good aperitif on a cold day. I forked the meat and started nibbling. The rest of the clan did the same. “Hmmm, quite tough”, I silently muttered. Big bones too.
“Mama, is the Turkey done yet?”, my wife asked. “The oven’s light is still on”, she remarked. “Of course it is still on. The ham is almost done. It will be the main course for the day”, my mother in law answered. “So where is the Turkey?”, my wife asked again, more puzzled than ever. My mother in law either ignored the question or she was too busy eating. While they were discussing, I was having a hard time nibbling on the meat of my soup. I looked at my son. He too seemed to have challenges on chewing his portion. My father-in-law had to protect his dentures. It was like a chewing contest. Yet no one wanted to offend anyone. We all said the soup was good. And it was. Tinola has its specific flavor unique in itself, not found in any kind of stew. And this one was even more unique.
“Well”, my mother-in-law said. “I should have cut that huge American Chicken into smaller pieces. I should have known better. Only “natives” have a tender meat. This white leg horn is not only huge. It requires more water, needs a larger container and more time to soften up. Probably I should have used a pressure cooker. You know, “Tinola” was not part of our menu. But poor Arnold. He said he wanted Tinola. After all the trips he made to the store, I wanted to surprise him. There was not much time. I saw that big bird defrosting on the sink. In this country where everything is large, I supposed it was American Chicken, a monster of a bird if you would ask me. We had enough fried and baked food. So voila, you have your “Tinola”. That bird is so big we will have soup until Christmas. And by the way, is “Turkey” the American slang for “manok”?” For a while we were silent. The meal went on as planned. Ham found its way on the table with its sweet coatings of pineapple and sugar frosting. We did not have the classical stuffing, corn, gravy or mashed sweet potato. We did not have the green bean casserole, the corn bread or Caesar’s salad. We did not have many of those typical pilgrim’s fancy. But I had my own. I was thankful for my “Tinola”, my “Tinolang Turkey” that is. It was yummy good.
So t’was the tale of my first Thanksgiving Dinner, a secret I kept for quite a time, a secret many of us have never heard. On the 22nd of November, the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated 44 years ago, the time when the early settlers of Cape Cod in present day Massachusetts gathered for a symbolic feast, most of us will take part on a “Thanksgiving event”. Although alien to Philippine tradition, it is a feast with the most universal significance, a day I think the whole world needs to celebrate. As the pilgrims thanked God for a bountiful autumn harvest, we have many reasons to express gratitude. There are a thousand and one ways to express appreciation for a myriad reasons we take for granted. With thanksgiving, the spirit of joy comes in like a heartfelt desert after a bountiful course. Joy is the happy offspring of thanksgiving. Only a joyful disposition can express genuine gratitude. And it is there for the taking.
As I end this pretentious comic relief, I would like to express Salamat , Gracias, Merci, Mabalos, Agyamanac, Arigato, Sye Sye, Danke, Tack, Spasibo, Shukriya, Asante, Efharisto and Thank you to each and everyone of you, beloved readers whom I have reached! I would like to thank “MegaSecene” for providing me with the space to build our thoughts, and express our passion. I would like to thank my family, (my own and the one I came from), for helping me be me, despite my crazy idiosyncrasies and my unheard wackiness. And course, I would like to thank my belated mother-in-law for my first American Tinola. Big bird is overwhelming, but it was not invincible. Despite its tough skin and enormous size, we made it part of our cuisine. As Filipino immigrants, we have encountered a lot of “Tinolang Turkeys”, a sincere mosaic of Americana and Filipiniana. We have survived. We will survive.
And once again, “Have a nice Happy Thanksgiving Holiday!”