A Thanksgiving ‘Happy Birthday’ Baby

Thanksgiving was a non-event for me when we first moved to America.  As a Brit, this holiday isn’t on the calendar and not one that we celebrate since, after all, it was from our country that the pilgrims fled, so nothing for us to give thanks for on that count, at least.

But our move to California in the August of 1986 changed all that. EH (ex-husband) signed his life away joined the Department of Corrections; starting out on the bottom rung of the seniority ladder, it would be years before he was able to grab those family-friendly shifts.

So, while he worked overtime we spent our first couple of Thanksgivings with the grandparents. Driving the four-hour drive from where they lived in Los Angeles to the central coast where we lived, they treated us to a feast at a nearby restaurant, since Crazy Grandma didn’t cook turkey dinners anymore.

Thanksgiving didn’t hold any emotional or sentimental attachment for me, so it was nice to start this new tradition in this way and not have any of the holiday-season stress.

But when my eldest son started Kindergarten a couple of years after we moved, I learned all about the meaning of this special American holiday, through his eyes.

He proudly taught me how the Pilgrim Fathers sailed across the sea from England to America in The Mayflower from Plymouth, Devon in 1620 to escape religious persecution from  King James 1 and his cronies.

He told me that they suffered terribly in very harsh conditions, but that they eventually settled in New Plymouth, Massachusetts against all odds and formed a colony of their own.

Their brave New World.

I learned how they made friends with the Native Americans who showed them how to farm the land and grow the local crops such as pumpkins and corn and how to catch and cook the local wild turkey.

It was out of this relationship that the first Thanksgiving feast grew, as a way for the pilgrims to show their gratitude for their new friends: a celebration handed down for all the generations to come, held every year on the fourth Thursday of every November.

It was great fun to join in with the festivities at my son’s school – I watched with pride as he and his friends made paper hats, painted their ‘clothes’  (Indian? Pilgrim?) and ate their own feast (thanks to their parent’s contributions)  as they all sat together around trestle tables.

My son (left) with a friend at his first Thanksgiving feast 1988 (c) Sherri Matthews

My son (left) with a friend at his first Thanksgiving feast
Kindergarten 1988
(Notice the ‘pilgrims’ in the background!)
(c) Sherri Matthews

With a couple of Thanksgiving’s under my belt, the year came when I decided to try my hand at making my very own family feast.  EH was working the swing shift starting at 3 pm, so I figured I could make the meal in good time before he had to leave.

Never mind that I was nine-month’s pregnant.  No problem.  I thought.

Thanks to Crazy Grandma’s hand-written recipe for home-made stuffing, a few tips and ideas from new friends I had made at the school gates, and my mum’s advice for cooking a turkey (my first time), I began my preparations early in the morning.

It was tiring enough standing for so long in the kitchen, but the real fun began once everything was cooking happily away in the oven. The constant bending up and down to check on everything set off seismic waves of Braxton Hicks contractions.

They pulled me up so short that I had to keep stopping to breathe, just like they teach you in those ante-natal classes – hee hee hoooo hoooo…

By no small miracle, I managed to pull it off (the meal, not the oven door).  My first home-cooked Thanksgiving feast consisted of: turkey, corn-on-the-cob, cornbread, mashed potatoes, Crazy Grandma’s stuffing,  yams (sweet potatoes) oozing brown sugar and marshmallows baked and browned on top, French Bean Casserole, and lashings of gravy.  Not forgetting homemade pumpkin pie (an acquired taste for this Brit) and ice cream to follow.

We ate, enjoyed and EH left for work. I did the dishes and after a short rest, it being sunny and quite warm outside (which was so strange to me, it being the end of November), I decided that maybe a short walk while my son rode his bicycle would do us some good.

The ‘contractions’ had eased off by now, thankfully.

Me with Big-Brother-To-Be  Morro Bay, California 1988 (c) Sherri Matthews

Me with Big-Brother-To-Be
Morro Bay, California 1988
(c) Sherri Matthews

We stepped outside, the big, blue Californian skies beckoning, and off we went. I will never forget how quiet and still our neighbourhood seemed that day, everybody inside eating their meals with their family and friends.

It certainly heightened my sense of being very alone in a vast land, just me and my little boy.

It was then that I realised I had overdone things.  I took a few steps, then stopped.  I couldn’t walk.  Something felt odd.  A strong contraction, oh no, surely not.  I called after my son who was peddling his little bike up ahead to come back.

“Sorry my love, no walk today, Mummy’s not feeling too good…”

Once back inside I thought I had better have a lie down, and so instead of a walk in the sunshine we spent the afternoon cuddled up on the sofa with a few good books and watching cartoons.  The contractions, to great relief, subsided.

But Nicky didn’t wait long and arrived two days later on the 29th November, close enough to qualify as my very own Thanksgiving baby!

Me and my Nicky - 1989 (c) Sherri Matthews

Me and my Nicky – 1989
(c) Sherri Matthews

I had a lot more to learn about Thanksgiving.   For Nicky’s fourth birthday I planned a party at  home, inviting a few of his pre-school friends.  I made a chocolate train cake, planned games, set the table with paper hats and streamers.

Nobody replied to my RSVP and only one little girl turned up.  Everyone else, I later found out, had gone away to spend Thanksgiving with their families.  I didn’t make that mistake again.

The other thing I learned about Thanksgiving in America is that every year that I spent there, we were never alone.  I made friends through the children’s friends, our church, and work; we were never short of someone to spend the holiday with.

I am profoundly thankful to those friends who, over the years, welcomed me and my family into their homes year after year and who made sure that we were never lonely or forgotten.

Many of them I am no longer in touch with: those of us who have moved away,  taken different paths, embarked on distant journeys.  Yet, their generous and loving hospitality and kindness will live in my heart forever.

With every slice of pumpkin pie, I partook in a slice of Americana, spending time with family and friends in a country that was my adopted home for many years, embracing this uniquely American holiday.

As the years went by, I cooked many more Thanksgiving feasts, including one for some of my eldest son’s college friends.

But never again with a baby bump.

My heart overflows with gratitude for you all, my dear family, friends, and loved ones near and far as I wish those of you who celebrate –

…a very Happy Thanksgiving!…

…and to Nicky, a very Happy Birthday to you, my Thanksgiving Baby…!!

Nicky's First Birthday November 29, 1989 (c) Sherri Matthews

Nicky’s First Birthday
November 29, 1989
(c) Sherri Matthews

With lots of love from Mum xxxxxxx

About Sherri Matthews

Sherri is a writer with work published in print magazines, anthologies and online. As a young British mum of three, she emigrated to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England's West Country, a full-time carer within her family. Her current WIP after completing her memoir is a psychological thriller.
This entry was posted in Family Traditions, Friendship, Mothers & Sons, My California and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to A Thanksgiving ‘Happy Birthday’ Baby

  1. Rachel says:

    Touching story, Sherri. You remember it all as though it was just yesterday. Lovely photos too. And happy birthday, Nicky!


    • Sherri says:

      Ahh, thank you Rachel, and for the birthday wishes for Nicky too! I feel like it was yesterday when I tell these stories and I love being able to share them with you all here. Just so thankful that you enjoy them 🙂


  2. Denise says:

    Wow what an amazing and varied post. Great pictures. You and your family look beautiful in every one… and the sunshine! and the pink dress!

    In my later pregnancy stages I could barely move. I thought – how do people keep full time working all the way up to the birth? I can still feel the contractions in the lead up in my memory. Never mind crazy Grandma, what about crazy Sherri home making all that Thanksgiving food?

    It’s heartwarming to hear about the welcome your kind friends gave you.


    • Sherri says:

      Ah yes, the sunshine!! I wore that pink dress, pregnant or not. It wasn’t even a maternity dress, just very loose and comfortable!

      Ha Ha! I know, Crazy Sherri is right! I must have been nuts! Needless to say I didn’t do that very often but then I have cooked Christmas lunch for, oh, I don’t know, the last 27 years!

      As always Denise, many thanks for your lovely comment 🙂


  3. jenniferbgraham says:

    I can relate to how Thanksgiving doesn’t elicit the same emotions in me as they do in North Americans, because I grew up in a different culture.
    “seismic waves of Braxton Hicks contractions… hee-hee-hooo-hooo” Love it!
    Lovely blog. Enjoyed the read.


  4. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Great food; no presents to stress out about buying. (Bonus: my husband cooks the meal).


  5. Steven says:

    Slightly ashamed to say I know next to nothing about Thanksgiving, so you’ve taught me something today. Gawd, you’d never catch me doing all that when I’m expecting. Go you! 😛 I love all these trips back in time, feel as though I were there.

    Was there any chocolate train cake left over from that party only one person turned up to? Is it still available?

    Many happy returns to Nick for Friday. Quarter-century, hey…


    • Sherri says:

      Well I love it when I can teach someone something! Although this is a very sparse lesson I can assure you!

      Steven, you would definitely not want to be doing this when expecting…I sincerely hope that you are never in that position, not ever… 😉

      Ahh, you know I wanted to post a photo of the chocolate train. I know I have one but I just didn’t have the time to go wading through all the endless boxes of photos that I had great plans for putting in albums and never did. This is the price I now pay for being so disorganised. I will look it out and post it just for you, promise, as soon as I can 🙂

      Thanks very much for the birthday wishes for Nicky – yes, he is getting to be quite the old man now isn’t he?

      BTW – love how you keep changing your pics… 🙂 You remind me of someone in this one but can’t think who…

      PS If I find any leftover cake I’ll definitely save some for you 🙂


      • Steven says:

        Yay! I love me some chocolate train cake. I think I had that a couple of times when I was around the same age. And caterpillar cake!

        I made my brother a Mr Blobby cake when he was about 7 (do you know Mr Blobby? He was a 90’s UK thing) I will try and find a photo of that 🙂

        Ahh well, it’s not how old you feel but how old you are that counts… Any plans for the big 2-5?

        Ha! Thanks, I’ll probably keep this one. I couldn’t bear the cheesy grin anymore, so thought that it was probably having a similar effect on everybody else. This was done by a photography student, Photoshopped to hell, which is why i’m blurry soft and wrinkle-free 😉 all that messing about, could at least have made my bloody nose a bit smaller.

        Hmm. Dracula? Grim Reaper? Craig Revel-whatshisface? 😛


        • Sherri says:

          Ha Ha! I remember caterpillar cake too 🙂

          Now I had no idea who Mr Blobby was until Hubby explained it to me a while ago – yes Steven, you are absolutely right, it was the 90s and so lost on me. Would love to see a photo of that cake!! How sweet of you to make it for your brother!

          No real plans, Nicky is going off to Brighton to hang out with some old friends and then with us next weekend. Think he is ready to blow off some steam after the time he has had lately, but he is still glowing from yours and everyone’s amazing response to his music! I told him he must get some make some more music and soon 🙂

          Ha Ha,now I can’t get Craig Revel-whashisface out of my mind, but no, you definitely don’t look like him, nor Dracula or the Grim Reaper!! I still can’t think but when I know i’ll tell you… 🙂


          • Steven says:

            Ha, how mean of your husband to unnerve you with info about Blobby – what a walking horror story he was! 😛 Shall search for photo evidence soon.

            That’s great to hear and yes, indeed! Would love to hear more. Can’t rush it though!

            That’s a relief dahhling, you get a 10 from me. …I’ve got it!! Silly us, it was so obvious; but then, I’m modest. Brad Pitt, on his best day? …Right?


            • Sherri says:

              That Mr Blobby does sound a bit freaky I have to admit…!

              Ahh, I’m honoured! A 10, wow, thank you dahhling 😉

              Better than Brad Pitt…Aspie daughter just had a look at your photo and she got it in one…definitely Jake Gyllenhaal… 🙂 In fact, I don’t think your name is Steven at all…


              • Steven says:

                Well I’m incredibly flattered by that! 🙂 Thank you both! I wasn’t in Brokeback Mountain, though. It certainly beats Nick Hewer, which I used to get at work when I natch used to grimace a lot…

                I’ve just told the good lady about this; she found it hilarious, and offers specsavers.co.uk in response. Bah!

                I’ve gone all giddy now and I’ll be sure to place ‘likened to JG’ on my business card in the future. Thank you again! Have a good night 🙂


                • Sherri says:

                  Well, I did just get a new pair of reading glasses from Specsavers lol 😉

                  No, just kidding, honestly, you really do look like him (but I can assure you I wasn’t thinking of Brokeback Mountain!).

                  You have a good night too JG 🙂


  6. Oh, Sherri, I had so much fun reading this! You brilliantly combined the British view of pilgrims with California life, creating a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and the ever popular Braxton Hicks entertainment! Beautiful!
    You were lucky that even one child attended a birthday party so close to Thanksgiving, but you seem to have a delightful capacity for taking things in stride.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you THIS YEAR–think of me not as a pilgrim, but a friend! Marylin


    • Sherri says:

      Ahh, how lovely, and so I do think of you as a friend dear Marylin, thank you so much 🙂

      I was quite disappointed for my little boy that nobody else showed up to his party but once I realised what had happened I didn’t feel so bad! The grandparents were with us so we made our own fun and Nicky still had a great time 🙂

      Wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving 🙂


  7. Life and Other Turbulence says:

    What a lovely post! Happy Birthday to the birthday boy…much to celebrate there!


  8. Oh Sherri, I just love your stories. I often forget that I’m reading and I feel as though you’re in the room sharing a story. You’re a born storyteller!
    Okay, I have to know, was the ice cream homemade as well as the pumpkin pie?
    Happy Birthday to your talented and very handsome son, Nicky!


    • Sherri says:

      I do really enjoy ‘telling’ these stories and thrilled that you enjoy reading them! I never thought that anyone would much care 🙂

      Sorry to disappoint you Jill but no, the ice cream was very much shop bought – I wasn’t that crazy 😉

      Wishing you and my friend from Devon a very Happy Thanksgiving and I will be sure to give Nicky your kind birthday wishes 😉


      • Thanks, Sherri! I’m looking forward to time with family this Thanksgiving.
        Okay, I just had to verify whether the ice cream was store bought. I’m glad to here that your weren’t that crazy! 🙂
        As far as your stories, it’s quite obvious, we do care. You must give the people what they want! 🙂


        • Sherri says:

          How lovely of you Jill, thank you so much!

          Hope you and my friend from Devon had a wonderful Thanksgiving, I’ve been away from the laptop for a few days so just now catching up 🙂


  9. A lovely, heartwarming story, Sherri. I know how hard it is to adopt a new country and its traditions I do believe having children of school age helps expose us to the new life quicker, I’m glad you made lots of friends.
    Canada was my adopted country and we couldn’t even speak English at first. I remember all the new holidays but not how we began to celebrate Thanksgiving. Odd. 😉


    • Sherri says:

      Thanks so much Tess, and yes, you are so right, having school age children really helped in making new friends when I first moved to the States. I actually found it much harder when I moved back home here since the kids were much older and I never saw the other mums! My new friends were made when I went back to work.

      I didn’t know that Canada had a Thanksgiving until recently! That must have been quite something for you not being able to speak English when you first moved there (where did you move from?) I do so admire you for coming through that and look at you now 🙂


      • I cannot take any credit. My whole education has been in Canada and we all know kids lap up a new language like ice cream. We moved here from Germany and our small town had immigrants from all over. We did a lot of sign language at first, the way people who manage to understand each other but don’t have a common language. 😀


  10. mvschulze says:

    A wonderful, and thoughtful holiday and birthday story. M


  11. So sorry to hear about his fourth birthday! I hope he wasn’t too disappointed 😦
    I didn’t know much about Thanksgiving until I worked in a call center. We had no work because it was Thanksgiving in the US, that was one thing I was thankful for because I got to spend the day with my family. 🙂
    I love the concept though, I think it is beautiful that families come together on this day/ Life can be busy so it’s good that there’s one day when people can relax and have a good time with the whole family. 🙂
    Happy Birthday to your Nicky 🙂


    • Sherri says:

      Ahh, no, it was ok in the end. We had the grandparents with us and we had a good time once we realised the reason behind it!

      Funny you say about a call centre, that is what Nicky used to do… 🙂

      Any time for the family to gather together is wonderful. For us here in the UK Christmas is very much about that, we stretch it out from Chistmas Eve all the way through to New Year’s…of course I will be writing about that!

      Although it isn’t quite the same as when I was growing up, back when everything closed for 2 weeks. Now it’s all about the sales and shopping…and you know what I think about shopping 🙂

      Many thanks Jhanis for the birthday wishes for Nicky, I’ll be sure to send them on … 🙂


  12. TBM says:

    All these Thanksgiving posts are making me feel guilty. It was one of my least favorite holidays. I don’t like turkey, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, corn, and other “Thanksgiving” foods. I usually survived on mashed potatoes and stuffing. As I get older I appreciate it more and now that I’m in London, I miss it. As a kid my motto was “Bring on Christmas.”

    I wish your son a happy birthday. Not that really is something to be thankful for.


    • Sherri says:

      Wow, that’s quite something TB! I did used to love the food I have to admit!!

      I make green bean casserole at Christmas so that we don’t miss out since I don’t do Thanksgiving anymore obviously but other than that it’s a very British meal! It’s funny isn’t it the things we miss when we don’t have them? My mum used to bring over suitcases stuffed with things like Marmite, Crunchies and Yorkshire Tea – loads of it!

      I will be sure to give Nicky your birthday wishes, thanks so much, and yes, something to be very thankful for indeed. Happy Thanksgiving to you from Somerset to London 🙂


  13. Lovely memories. Happy Thanksgiving and Happy birthday.


  14. What a lovely Thanksgiving story to share with us Sherri. I loved your narration of how the holiday evolved for you over the years. I love the Thanksgiving holiday especially because it’s all about family, friends, and giving thanks. Happy birthday to Nicky!


    • Sherri says:

      Ahh, how lovely Heather, thanks so much, I’m so glad that you enjoyed the read! It really is wonderful to have any excuse like this to spend such precious time with family and loved ones.

      Wishing you and your lovely family a very Happy Thanksgiving and I will be sure to give Nicky your very kind birthday wishes 🙂


  15. jennypellett says:

    I really enjoyed reading this Sherri – as someone with a foot on both sides of the Atlantic, so to speak, you’re the best person to give us all a balanced view of things. Happy Thanksgiving – how ever you celebrate these days, and HB to Nicky.
    Mind you, I think you are mad doing all that catering when you had the perfect excuse not to bother – but then I would think that, wouldn’t I?


    • Sherri says:

      Ha Ha!! Thanks so much Jenny and yes, I must have been a little touched in the head looking back on it! Don’t worry though, it was a long time before I cooked a Thanksgiving meal again, not until my eldest son came home from college with a couple of friends who were far from home actually – and I can assure you, I was definitely not pregnant that time!!

      We don’t ‘do’ Thanksgiving now, but of course we have Nicky’s birthday to celebrate and thanks so much for your kind birthday wishes for him which I will certainly send his way… 🙂

      So here’s to you, Mrs Robinson,……..


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  17. thirdhandart says:

    I don’t know how you did it… cooking such a big Thanksgiving dinner at nine months pregnant. So glad that you didn’t have Nicky as soon as you stepped outside for your walk. [For a split second I thought that was the direction your story was headed.] When I was in labor with my youngest daughter, the nurses suggested that I walk up and down the hospital corridors in order to speed things up… and it worked. My youngest daughter was born two days before Thanksgiving in 1989.
    Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories Sherri. And, Happy Birthday to your Thanksgiving baby, Nicky! 🙂


    • Sherri says:

      Ha Ha! No, nor do I Theresa! I couldn’t even think about doing something like that now!!!

      Yes, for a moment I did really think that I was going to have Nicky that day! Out of the three of my children, his labour was the quickest and the easiest (although most intense) so I think there is definitely a lot to be said for walking and moving about to get tihngs going!

      Oh Theresa, how lovely that you also have a Thanksgiving baby, or near enough, and only one year younger than Nicky!! I hope your daughter had a lovely birthday, belated birthday wishes to her and many thanks for yours for Nicky, I will be sure to send them on for tomorrow!

      Happy Thanksgiving Theresa, to you and your lovely family 🙂


  18. simplyilka says:

    Thanks for the lovely post. What great memories you have. And It is so nice to see how many memories you bring back in your readers. Memories are such a treasure 🙂
    I love the pics as well. Do you still celebrate Thanksgiving being back in the UK? Warmest wishes to Nicky on his Birthday! Lots to be thankful for 🙂


    • Sherri says:

      Hello Ilka, thank you so much for your lovely comment and so glad that you enjoyed reading this story and also the pics too!

      We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving anymore since it is so close to my son’s birthday but we do get together as a family…thanks so much for your very kind birthday wishes for Nicky, so very much to be thankful for indeed… 🙂


  19. willowmarie says:

    Wishing u a day filled with the magic of enough, not just on American Thanksgiving, but everyday.


  20. rmudge says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you too even though you aren’t here to celebrate it anymore! Happy birthday to Nikki as well. Very touching story.


    • Sherri says:

      Thanks so much Robin and for the very kind birthday wishes for Nicky too! I know this is a bit late in replying (been away from my laptop for a few days!) but I hope that you had a lovely Thanksgiving too 🙂


  21. Thanks for sharing more of your family stories with us Sherri, it’s wonderful to read about your experiences on both sides of the Atlantic, which gives you a special insight most of us don’t have.


    • Sherri says:

      Thank you so much Andrea, I’m so glad that you and others here do really seem to enjoy reading about these stories from my family’s past, it really means a great deal to me 🙂


  22. Gede Prama says:

    Amazing and Thank you for writing which is quite good and best wishes always, and greetings


    • Sherri says:

      Greetings to you too Gede Prama and many thanks for visiting and for your very kind comment. I hope that you will visit my summerhouse again and I wish you very best wishes also 🙂


  23. Steven says:

    Sherri! I’ve just accepted the Dragon’s Loyalty Award (finally) complete with two very fetching Blobby and ballroom and braces photographs just for you. 😉 Thanks again!


    • Sherri says:

      Hi Steven, thanks so much for letting me know, heading over to you right now, how exciting!! I’ve been away from the laptop for a few days so just now catching up 🙂


  24. Imelda says:

    That was a feast you laid out. I read your post on Wednesday while I was in my husband’s office waiting for him to be done with work for the day so we could start our trip. I was so impressed by everything you did to prepare a Thanksgiving feast and I was thinking how you did it without giving birth (just before I got to your final paragraphs). When I was pregnant with our third child, we just got our own house and as such, found ourselves drowned with too many chores. I took it upon myself to do the gardening and the pruning. I dug huge holes for the roses. Needless to say, I delivered our boy a month earlier than he should come out. I was scared that I did him harm.


    • Sherri says:

      Oh boy, I really do feel for you Imelda moving house when you were pregnant. We did the same when I was 7 months pregnant with my firstborn son and I had him 3 weeks early but although he was fine, like you, I was worried that the stress of moving brought things on a little too early!!

      In Nicky’s case I do believe that cooking all that food so close to my due date definitely helped things along but he was more than ready and my biggest baby! I still wonder how I managed to do that! Then again, I also had my third child, my daughter, 2 weeks early!!

      So glad that you had a lovely time away for Thanksgiving…now onto Christmas 🙂


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