Many years ago back in 1986 I was a young 20 year old Irish girl away from home for the first time on Cape Cod, Mass.
I had gone to Cape Cod to meet up with friends that had travelled ahead of me in June of ’86 all ready to take on the big wide world. And to be fair I did take it on and enjoyed my adventure but by early September most of my friends had returned home to go back to college, I on the other hand had finished college so I stayed on a little while with some others.
I made some great fiends while there not least a lady called Donna who took me under her wing, in fact took many of us under her wing. She was full of fun and made our stay in the US so warm, safe and inviting. I thought her a real grown up but now when I think back she was probably only a few years older than I.
Anyway here in Ireland Thanksgiving is not celebrated so although I knew it existed when I was on Cape Cod and I heard people making preparations, I was just letting it over my head. I understood it was like Christmas is but up to that time my mother had organised Christmas so ‘no mother no celebration’ was my thought on the whole thing. My sister arrived in Mid-November along with an invitation from Donna to spend Thanksgiving with her and her family. We jumped at the chance, at that stage there were just 3 of us left on the Cape so it was not too much of an invasion on her family day.
Thanksgiving arrived and we got ourselves ready and headed off to experience our first Thanksgiving but we were not prepared at all for what we arrived too. Donna and her husband Chris had their families visit, the house was alive, and the table full of all types of food, eggnog on the sideboard and a welcome which could not be equalled. Imagine our eyes, we had not had a home cooked family dinner in months and here we were surrounded by family. They may not have been our own family but they may as well have been on that day.
After dinner we sat and listened to family stories, stories of life in the US which seemed so cosmopolitan to us at the time, their lives just seemed so different to ours but it was their acceptance of us at their family gathering that resonated most. Of course being part of any family occasion when you are away from home makes you think of those you have left behind though my mother may beg to differ as most of the time being a reckless young person on my first life adventure I used to forget to call home.
Later into the evening I had to go out onto the back deck of Donna’s house, it was such a crisp evening with a clear sky which was usual on the Cape and I looked up and I was taken aback by the moon and the stars. A moon and stars that I had seen a thousand times before but on that night it brought me back home to Ireland in a second. I remember Donna coming out and asking what I was looking at and I said imagine when I go home I will see the same moon and the stars in the sky in the same formation; it just fascinated me that night. That night it made me lonely for Ireland and all of the people I had left behind, today it makes me lonely at times for the people I came to know and love on the Cape. I have never looked at the moon or the plough since in the sky without thinking of Donna and her family on that night, Thanksgiving 1986.
A singer from Ireland Imelda May wrote a song (for her mother while she was living away from Ireland because her mother always talked about the moon when she phoned each night) which reminds me so much of my one and only Thanksgiving celebration, of all I thought that night looking at the sky missing my Irish family and all I have thought since looking at the night sky missing the friends I made that year.
Have I been so lucky as to meet Donna since? She visited Ireland with her husband Chris a couple of years after we came home from the Cape and then we seemed to lose contact that is until last year. I did search, especially once the internet arrived, every now and again I would pop her name into a search bar, last year I hit the jackpot and we made contact, I could not have been happier.
What I have learned from that experience in my life is never underestimate the effect your kind gesture can have on people in your life, I have never forgotten the openness of Donna, Chris and their families on that Thanksgiving night in 1986.