Some might think canceling Thanksgiving due to a little rain is a bit extreme. Those people have never been to one of our Thanksgiving parties.
We had our first country Thanksgiving party in November 2007, one year after moving out to Martinborough. It started as a small idea, but by the time we’d finished inviting all of our new country friends and our old city friends, more than 60 people showed up.
It was a gorgeous spring day. All around the lawn we’d set up picnic tables and chairs borrowed from the neighbors. Everyone sat in sunny spots or under the shade of the wisteria eating turkey and pumpkin pie. They strolled down through the olive grove to the river, and they gazed out at the cattle and sheep in the paddocks.
The following year the party grew a little bit. Okay, a lot. Around 150 people came. I’m still not really sure how that happened, but I suspect it had something to do with CJ greeting everyone he knew in Martinborough’s little wine village with the phrase, ‘Hello! Come to our Thanksgiving party!”
Surprisingly, that second Thanksgiving party went even more smoothly than the first. In fact, it was in the middle of that party that I experienced one of my all time favorite moments here in the Wairarapa.
I was looking out from the deck down towards the paddocks and the olive grove. Everyone had finished eating and they were milling about. The fields were flooded with sunlight and the olive trees were flicking their silver-backed leaves toward the sky.
Just then I saw our friend Tom and his wife and two daughters strolling back up from the river. They were moving very slowly, meandering through the summer grass. The girls were holding wildflowers they’d gathered along the way. The entire family looked blissfully relaxed.
Suddenly I was flooded with a deep and powerful feeling of gratitude. Just being on this property makes me happy. But seeing our friends here, watching them enjoy our little slice of paradise – that makes me even happier still.
The weather report
“So should we cancel?” CJ said. His voice was tense on the other end of the phone.
I checked the MetService website. Tall gray bars indicating heavy rain filled the entire day. This year we were expecting 90 people. While that was fewer than the year before, there was still no way we could fit all of those people in the house.
We decided we’d check the weather again that evening and make a decision then. But we figured that this was our last chance to cancel. The party was in two days. Neighbors would be defrosting hams and friends would be baking. This had become an event too enormous to cancel at the last minute.
Well, by the time we made it home that evening, everything had changed. The gray rain bars for Martinborough had become shorter, and they no longer filled the entire day. It looked like it wouldn’t be so bad. Just a few light showers. That’s all.
Just in case, CJ called and ordered the biggest festival tent he could at such short notice, along with tables and chairs. It was a bit of insurance. But at full capacity the tent (called a ‘marquee’ here) would only seat around 60. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
I woke up on Saturday morning to the sound of CJ in the other room, wailing like a double-crossed banshee.
“They tricked us!” he cried. “Triiiicked us!”
Confused, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and stumbled out of the bedroom. CJ was glued to the computer, looking at the weather online. Overnight the gray rain bars had grown taller than Auckland’s Sky Tower, and they now spanned a solid block from noon to six pm – precisely the hours of our party.
I wish I could say that I consoled CJ. I did not. I panicked. Suddenly I saw all the people we cared for in New Zealand huddled together like poverty-stricken refugees, seeking shelter in an overcrowded tent in the rain.
Thank goodness for the city friends. Four of them had come out the night before to help. They’d already made mounds of stuffing and cooked the first turkey (which had come out of the oven at one o’clock in the morning).
It was our city friend Debbie, Communications Adviser to the Gods, who began the process of talking CJ and me down off the edge.
She spoke calmly and quietly. “The weather will keep a lot of people away,” she told us. “Wellingtonians won’t drive over the Hill Road in a downpour. And the people with kids won’t come, since the kids would be bored.”
Then her partner, the taciturn and unflappable Cody, added the single most important bit of Kiwi wisdom you will ever hear. It’s a phrase that virtually underpins New Zealand society, and without it this country would surely descend into chaos.
He looked at us, nodded slowly, and said, “She’ll be right.”
If you had a Kiwi-Yankee dictionary, this phrase would translate as, “Everything will work out fine.” But it goes deeper than that. It’s kind of like a Kiwi mantra, and it’s reflected in the relatively laid-back attitudes you see all around you here.
CJ and I both took a deep breath, and we stepped away from the edge. That day, we would try to be like Kiwis.
Let’s get this party started
City friend Steve (official turkey chef) took the second bird out of the oven precisely on time at one o’clock in the afternoon. The serving table in the marquee was laden with gorgeous plates of food everyone had brought, people were enjoying themselves and, most importantly, as though by some miracle, there was a seat for everyone.
City friend Nate (surprise Polaroid photographer) did a head count and counted exactly 58 people. As we ate our thanksgiving meal, there were actually two chairs empty.
She was right. Everything did work out fine.
By the time we brought out the desserts, the noise and laughter in the marquee was positively raucous. I’d baked three pecan pies, three pumpkin pies, and CJ’s favorite double-layer carrot cake. Plus we had all the amazing sweet things others had brought. It was a fabulous feast.
The rain was mostly a drizzle all day, but somehow it almost felt cozy. Across the back of the tent we’d strung a banner that said, “Write what you’re grateful for today,” and we’d left sticky notes and pens on every table. It was fun to see what people had written, and it helped us focus on the reason we were all there in the first place.
As I finished my second piece of pecan pie, I looked around that big tent at the people I knew from Martinborough and Wellington and elsewhere. These people were young and they were old. They were farmers and office workers and artists and scientists. They were Kiwis and Australians and Brits and Argentineans and Americans. And they are all our friends.
I took a deep breath and looked over at CJ, who was sitting across the table from me, and he looked back.
We both broke into broad and satisfied smiles.
See what our friends are grateful floor in the gallery below. What are you grateful for?
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