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4. We Went Through Fire and Water


But You led us to a place of abundance. (Psalm 66:12)

“Hold the plucked bird over the gas flame of the stovetop to remove the remaining fuzz on the flesh.” Disgusting. 

I should have been thankful to even have a turkey. In the rest of the world, turkeys are fed and fattened for December, not November. This reality required a trip to the Farmers’ Market in downtown Warsaw where we made arrangements to buy a turkey ahead of schedule. 

The week of Thanksgiving, we returned to collect our purchase. Dodging puddles, we shoved past shoppers and merchants, and trudged down the narrow concrete aisle of the make-do shelter where villagers came to sell their wares. Past the pickle barrels, past the potato bins, past the slabs of hanging pork, we eventually reached our provider near the end of the row of stalls. 

Our “agreement” was ready and waiting.  Right there before our eyes, shabbily wrapped in pieces of newspaper, sat our pitiful, scrawny bird. It was dead. But barely. The head was cut off, but “the rest” was left for us to do. Where was U.S.D.A. at a time like this?

We paid the prearranged price, collected our prize, placed him in the trunk of our yellow Fiat, and drove him home to begin the process of making him presentable, and yes…edible. 

“Hold the plucked bird over the gas flame of the stovetop to remove the remaining fuzz on the flesh.” Now the singed odor of burning flesh permeated every crack and crevice of our small home. With it, my appetite for a feast, and my attitude of thanksgiving were steadily losing altitude - all because of this turkey.

When we gathered around the dining room table on Thanksgiving Day, the disgusting ordeal was still too fresh. The End Product was on the platter, but my mind was elsewhere. I nearly gagged at the Technicolor memory of that nasty bird on the newspaper at the market, riding in the trunk of our car, and hanging over the flame in our kitchen. I choked down my portion and refused seconds. I was thankful all right, very thankful, to be done. 

Imagine how I felt when another year rolled around, and once again, we needed to make plans for Thanksgiving. Time had done little to erase my memories of the disgusting ordeal. With zero options, we reserved another turkey at the Farmers’ Market. Another chapter in the saga of “How to Celebrate Holidays Overseas” was about to be written.

In the surge of life, the upcoming raffle at David’s kindergarten hardly got my attention. What was being given away? A turkey? An American Butterball from the Embassy’s forbidden-to-outsiders Commissary? Oh sure, we will buy a couple of tickets. I’ll even pray, “Lord, please let us win the Butterball. Please.”

“Debby, Debby, I was looking for you!” The late Saturday afternoon sun was behind her as Sandra, David’s teacher, jumped out of the taxi, and came running to greet me. We were just leaving the restaurant, and I was busy making sure our little children were safe in the confusion and chaos of traffic. At first I didn’t even realize she was calling my name. And why was she so animated?

“Debby, we just had the drawing, and guess what! You won! Your family won the prize of the American Butterball Turkey!” 

The American Butterball Turkey. Did she say we won? No. No way. I was stunned. How could this be? My shock and amazement gave way overwhelming gratitude. God really did hear my prayer. He really did care about such an insignificant matter as a turkey. 

This year the difference in preparation was enormous. Rich aromas of this buttery baking beauty were a stark contrast to the previous smell of singed flesh. We relished each peek into the tiny communist oven, which was nearly too small to house the trophy. 

When finally ready, we took photos standing around our roasted royalty. Carving the 14-pound mega miracle was quite the ceremony. The atmosphere was particularly festive as seconds and even thirds were passed around the table. Through all of the excitement, I was quietly overwhelmed with gratitude. I couldn't get over the fact that this turkey was a gift from God. The Words of Psalm 34:4 seemed written just for me: “Delight yourself in The Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” This Thanksgiving, Disgust was transformed into Delight.