Ozark Thanksgiving

In The Art of Travel Fall 2016, Tel Aviv, Thanksgiving by Nathan1 Comment

Since Thanksgiving is a very big deal in my household, I decided it would  be best to fly home. Each year between twenty five and thirty five people gather in and around our family’s one room cabin in the Missouri Ozarks. My dad grew up in a big family–he was one of eight children–and each year for Thanksgiving it’s become tradition to all gather on this family property. I originally wasn’t planning on coming home for Thanksgiving, but when I found out that my uncle who lives in Denmark was making the trip, I figured I ought to as well.

Last Monday morning I got on an early flight and arrived in St. Louis at about ten in the evening. My siblings picked me up and we caught up while I snacked on some leftovers in the kitchen. I spent the next day in St. Louis with some cousins and my aunt and uncle and at one point my siblings, cousin, and sisters boyfriend and I went to visit my Mom’s eighth grade English class. That evening we had a big barbeque dinner, and once everyone went to bed I visited a few of my friends. Afterwards I slept like a rock.

We drove to our cabin the next day in the mid morning, and the waves of  family started arriving from North Carolina, Illinois, and Texas. It was really great seeing them, but as with all big gatherings, strange rifts are unavoidable. I found myself in the middle of one uncomfortable situation. An aunt of mine, who I haven’t been very close with in particular years, decided that this Thanksgiving was the time to wear her kufiyeh which my uncle had brought her from Palestine many years ago. This was first time I ever saw her wear it, and she wore it consistently the whole trip, even when the cabin got unbearably toasty. She is a former activist, Catholic, and a poet, and I have no doubt that she is aware of the kufiyeh’s symbolism. I am certain that she wanted me, her Jewish nephew spending a year studying abroad in Israel, to take notice. This wouldn’t have rubbed me the wrong way had she used it as a conversation starter with me, but in fact she never once asked me about my time in Israel. I imagine that our politics and viewpoints on the Israel/Palestine conflict might not be all that different, but I get the impression she thinks she knows my reasons for going to Israel, and wants to send me a message of disapproval for these assumed reasons. In any case, I didn’t feel comfortable bringing up the kufiyeh with her for fear of coming off as aggressive, and it ended up just being a strange and uncomfortable situation.

Weird family stuff aside, it was a wonderful Thanksgiving. Long walks, storytelling, eating, sitting around the fire, stargazing, wrestling around with cousins, familial roasting, and even dips in the ice cold river. Its really amazing to me that I can be in Israel one day and Steelville, Missouri the next. I’m sure that strange psychological things happen when we travel so far so suddenly. The whole trip felt surreal and I think it was because humans aren’t evolved to fully adjust their awareness time and space as quickly as our planes can move us.


  1. Nathan,

    I didn’t realize that anyone travelled back home for Thanksgiving. That is incredible, and I am extremely jealous. Putting that awkward family situation aside, it was eye-opening just to hear a little bit about your Thanksgiving spent with your family and friends. I wasn’t shocked to read about other abroad students’ different experiences for Thanksgiving because they’re abroad in countries where Thanksgiving is not celebrated. However, it was intriguing to read about your experience in St. Louis because it is so different from my average Thanksgiving in Philadelphia. After being away for so long, across the globe, it reminded me that even back in the states, we all come from different places and cultures and have special traditions close to our hearts.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your trip and wish you the best for the rest of your time abroad.

    Tamera 🙂

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