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Janis Jaquith
janis@radioessays.com
512 words

THANKSGIVING: 1973

It's Thanksgiving morning. A low, lumpy sky spits rain into my face as I run to catch the train to the suburbs. I collapse into the seat, take a deep breath, close my eyes and try to conjure up the smells that will saturate my mother's house today: apples, cinnamon, and that thick, welcoming smell of turkey innards and onions simmering on the stove.

Ingredients in our annual American Communion.

The train arrives at my stop and as I walk out into the street, the smell of diesel fumes reminds me that I am in France, and there will be no turkey feast today. In France it's just...Thursday. I hurry to the theatre where I meet my fellow Junior-Year-Abroad American students. A director will lecture us about the play we saw here last weekend.

We gather in a meeting room right next to the auditorium, which is packed with noisy little kids. Luckily, when the door is closed, the hubbub disappears.

The director sweeps in. He's wearing a calf-length leather coat and it swings freely from his shoulders, like a cape. He is a walking parody of an eccentric French man of the theatre, expounding on the play while pacing and gesturing hugely, pausing only to suck on the short cigarette held between his thumb and forefinger.

Keeping a straight face is not easy, but we make the effort and try to pay attention. Someone is quietly passing around a big bag of M & M's. You can't get M & M's in France. They must be part of someone's care-package from home. I hope there are some left by the time it reaches me.

And then it begins.

The soundtrack to -- of all things -- The Wizard of Oz comes bursting through the wall. There is no way we can pay attention to the French director now. It's hopeless.

I recognize the instrumental version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and look around to see that we are all flicking tiny, discreet glances at our fellow countrymen, enjoying the shared surprise and recognition.

We continue to feign interest in what the director is saying to us, but the music is very loud, and I long to be on the other side of that wall, watching as Dorothy Gale of Kansas once again finds her way home.

All eyes are on the director as he pauses to light another cigarette. On the soundtrack, baby chicks are peeping.

Judy Garland begins her sweet, sad crooning of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Now, no one is looking at the director. We are not focusing on anything in that room as the soft shadow of homesickness settles on our faces.

Wordlessly, the bag is passed to me and I shake out a single M & M, a tan one, before I pass it along.

I pop it in my mouth and silently give thanks for this tiny feast.


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