An intense Thanksgiving experience

During my years in Rome, especially before greater connectivity, there were times when I completely forgot the existence of Thanksgiving.  It would come upon me like an epiphany and I would often feel great isolation.  I was not part of the American ghetto in Rome, after all.

The growth of bandwidth changed many things, especially my sense of being separated at times of national celebration.  I was, for example, able to stream radio from the USA and later even stream my own satellite box.  Chats were more than IRC and e-mail.  I could have my US phone number ring directly in my Roman abode and pick up a dedicated handset and call the US for free. 

But the greater connectivity diminished in some ways the intensity of my all experience, not just that of loneliness or of removal from my roots.

Once, in that eon before bandwidth, my mother came to visit.  I had a big apartment with lots of room close the to the Vatican.  

Coming home one evening at suppertime, ready to dig into the kitchen and make something to eat for us, I arrived at the door and was greeted with wondrous fragrances.

The table was set and there was great golden brown bird and dishes with delights.

That it was Thanksgiving struck me like thunder.

The woman had, without any knowledge of Italian, gone to the neighborhood stores and the open market.  She had collected everything useful she could find for the day.  She managed to decipher the Italian oven, which doesn’t have degree settings even in centigrade.  She made a Thanksgiving feast.

Later I heard the tales from the highly amused and completely charmed shopkeepers.  This American woman, whom they knew was my mother, had charged in here and there and with lots of smiles and pantomime.  I think most of them would have paid money to have had her repeat her charades to communicate "turkey".  She could pick and choose vegetables, of course, and other packaged goods weren’t so tough, but how she gestured "baking soda", I’ll never know.  As it turns out, she settled for a big chicken, and the cookies she made with the baking soda were every bit as good as any she ever made back in the States. 


An intense Thanksgiving experience.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. That is very cool. Sometimes shipping in Italy can be intimidating, but Mom’s will do a lot for their sons.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. oops, I meant “shopping” not “shipping”

  3. Act of Thanksgiving for Blessings of the Past Year

    O God, the beginning and the end of all things, Who art always the same, and Whose years fail not, we now, at the close of another year, kneel in adoration before Thee, and offer Thee our deepest thanks for the fatherly care with which Thou has watched over us during the past, for the many times Thou hast protected us from evils of soul and body, and for the numberless blessings, both temporal and spiritual, which Thou hast showered upon us. May it please Thee to accept the homage of our grateful hearts which we offer Thee in union with the infinite thanksgiving of Thy divine Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with Thee liveth and reigneth forever and ever. Amen.

  4. KK says:

    Granted there is nothing like the love of a mother (assuming it was not a reflection of her opinion of your fine culinary skills) but what a world it would be if we all performed such works for our friends, families and neighbors.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  5. Kradcliffe says:

    My first Thanksgiving in the UK, I made the big turkey dinner and invited our parish priest to join us. For some reason, I haven’t bothered, since. I just can’t summon up the enthusiasm for it.

    I feel isolated from America on days like today. It makes me a bit sad. I don’t think cooking a bird I’m not that fond of would make it any less sad, so I don’t bother.

  6. Father: Though life often presents challenges, the Lord has truly blessed you. May He continue to bless you and your Mother for many years to come.

  7. Lucy says:

    Dear Fr Z – thank you so much for all the hard work you do !! On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m busy preparing the usual dishes for our family. In answer to KK – I have prepared a lovely Italian Zuccotto for my neighbor who always helps me when we’re having the priest in for dinner. At our EF, we have FSSP priests every other week come and say our Mass. We try to treat them to dinner as often as possible. So, in thanksgiving for my neighbor, I have made her that dessert that I know she really loves. God bless America !!

  8. Rachel says:

    Thanks for that story! I loved it! Now I’m getting al of my family to read it. charming your mother must be!

    Happy Thanksgiving from Sacramento, CA!
    BTW I’m thankful for this blog! Oh yes, and of course your service to the Church.

  9. Christabel says:

    I am irresistibly reminded of that great quote from “The Quiet Man” : “Why, even Father Lonergan had a mother!”

    Thanks be to God for mothers everywhere, including my own, God rest her.

  10. Cute recollection, Father.

    It’s been a long time since I lived overseas (1980-1983 in Hercegovina). But I remember that in November of 1981, someone came up to me and said, “hey, this is a big American holiday, no?”. I must have looked like a deer in headlights and my mind tried to grapple for a moment. Then I remembered: Goodness!!! It was Thanksgiving and it never crossed my mind. I mean, you take for granted that a holiday is….well, American and not celebrated everywhere.

  11. I am irresistibly reminded of that great quote from “The Quiet Man” : “Why, even Father Lonergan had a mother!”

    The Quiet Man.

    This was one of the greatest movies of all time, imho.

  12. Amy says:

    Mama trying to get what she needs to cook a special dinner for her son translates into any language. Thank God for mothers!

  13. Christabel says:

    Diane at Te Deum Laudamus :

    I think the word you are looking for is “Homeric!”

  14. David Osterloh says:

    Look what our mothers did for us and then think of the children growing up today with or without a father and a crack addled, abusive mother and you weep for them, Please comfort them Blessed Mother

  15. Father Totton says:

    Oddly, I watched the Quiet Man today while recovering from a bad cold!

    The past two years I have been invited by a parish family to celebrate thanksgiving in October – the paterfamilias is from Canada – they celebrate the final Monday of October. I feel a special connection also as my grandmother is/was Canadian!

  16. Christa says:

    “The Quiet Man!” is one of our all-time favorites!

    “Now, I want you to wave and cheer like you\’re Protestants when the bishop goes by.”

    (The bishop was an Irish Protestant visiting the small congregation in Innisfree.)

    Thanksgiving as a young Air Force wife in Berlin: Another young wife and I were in charge of making the dinner. She knew ZERO about cooking. I had to write my mother for directions on how to cook everything. We got a frozen turkey from the commissary but because of rough treatment in shipping, the skin had cracked. So we sewed it up with some thread from an Air Force sewing kit (dark blue). It looked like Frankenstein’s turkey. We also made ruffles for the drumsticks out of notebook paper, using my memory of making Chinese lanterns in kindergarten.)

    This was in 1968. I am thankful for the memory, and also that the turkey actually came out really well, even if it looked a little bizarre.

  17. Hugo says:

    Cheering “Hip hip hurray!” like a good protestant is the type of duplicitous ecumenism I could go for.
    Here you had a wonderful man who is prevented from serving others in error and loved by enough locals that his conversion was almost certain.

  18. Brian Clark says:

    Fr. Z:

    Was your mom Catholic at this point? Italians (even the A&P types) are relutant to incur the curse of a priest’s mother.

  19. Tomás López says:

    Good thing Mom didn’t have to pantomime “giblets” — they might have given her a “gibbet” by mistake.

  20. Jane says:

    You have a wonderful mother.

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