Trashin’ The Camp

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 13. Thanksgiving, Berlin by Ashley Jankowski1 Comment

“Hi, Ash!”

I Facetimed my family on Thanksgiving. I was here, they were all there.

Mom answered first with her face too close to the phone, making her smile take up half of the screen. I saw her lips part rapidly as she launched instructions into her kitchen. One hand on me and one eye on the stove, Mom navigated through the crowded rooms. One by one, my family gathered around the screen in awe as if the phone were the table and I was the turkey; I saw an ear here, a hairline there. A mush of stainless steel and leaves and orange and mashed potatoes and family swooshed across the screen. I caught sight of a five-fingered wave from my brother and a cheersing beer from Uncle Paul. I picked out Gramma and my dog, both on the couch, both wearing ridiculous holiday sweaters. I watched Dad cut the turkey and Nana stir her gravy the way she always has and always will.

“Hi guys, I wish I was there!”

I watched the scenes pass, scenes that I have known all my life. I tried to wave hello to everyone in the room, but it was too loud to see clearly.

This was the first Thanksgiving that I have been away from home. And maybe ‘not going home for the holidays’ is just considered to be an inevitable part of growing up, but why does it have to be? I wondered how long ‘always’ would last.

The dinner preparations continued. I closed my eyes.

Earlier in the evening, NYU Berlin hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for us at a local hotel. Paper leaves of red and yellow were sprinkled atop each candlelit table, hand-cut just for the occasion. They presented the turkey and the sweet potatoes, the cornbread and the pumpkin-flavored-everything. We gave thanks at the start of the meal, and walked away with full bellies at its conclusion. I was surrounded with wonderful company comprised of friends, professors and alumni. The food, the sharing, the gratitude; On paper, it should have been Thanksgiving. It just didn’t feel that way. What was missing? The sounds.

Through my headphones, I listened to my home as if it were a hymn (or perhaps, a soundtrack). My back door clicked open and squeaked shut with the arrival of new guests. Gramma recites her chorus of arbitrary complaints for the third time, and the oven beeps shrilly as if in response. Mom sings about this year’s green bean catastrophe as plates clank onto the counter in percussional piles of two, three, four. Football announcers battle to be heard in between the rhythmic beat of dialogue. And in the background plays a constant loop of laughter, the kind that you can hear whether you’re in the kitchen or in the basement or in Berlin.

Overwhelmed with the contagious symphony and my world of blessings, I began to write in my own lyrics, ones I whispered to myself, felt in my chest and danced to in my socks:

I am thankful that I have a home filled with noise

 I am thankful that laughter can sound across the globe

 I am thankful for my parents

 for Berlin

 for the chance to pursue my passions

for the chance to understand presence

 I am thankful for books, I am thankful for words

 I am thankful that I can

I am thankful that I am  

I am so thankful for

The clock struck ten in Berlin. There, it struck four. Dinnertime. After a crescendo of goodbyes and I-Miss-You-See-You-Soons, we hung up.

It was silent in my dorm room.


  1. Ashley,
    Wow! You are a very talented writer. I had a similar experience of getting to FaceTime my family and get a glimpse of a very familiar and comforting atmosphere from thousands of miles away. I definitely believe that there never has to be a time when you don’t go home for the holidays. However, I think this experience we’re having of being away makes us even more grateful for those waiting for us to come back when we do. Thanksgiving is just a day to remind us of all the great things that exist in our lives every day. It is smart that you hold on to the sounds of your family at Thanksgiving; thinking of just that can connect you from so far away. Thanks for sharing your beautiful lyrics!

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