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Theme and Variations

Zuzu Tadeushuk

The Myriad Faces of Thanksgiving

Did you forget the potatoes? The pumpkin pie? Who has the napkins? Well, get them already— how many times do I have to ask!

Everyone is blundering around the kitchen slamming drawers and clattering dishes, and when our holiday feast is finally ready…. we bag it. Distribute it quickly between three knapsacks to be tossed in the trunk of our car as we shove off for Harriman State Park and our idiosyncratic Thanksgiving tradition. 

It is always windy, usually cold, and sometimes rainy (or even snowy, in a freak case like last year) when we meet our friends at St. John’s Church in the Park and unload the cars. At the hour when sane families gather casually in warm living rooms, wine glasses in hand as they wait for dad to announce that the turkey’s cooked through (or at least that’s how I imagine the scene, having never actually been part of one such sane family myself); at that hallowed, homely hour my family strikes out into the woods wearing mittens and scarves and backpacks loaded with kindling.  We’re headed for a lake that lies half an hour's hike away and has a neglected little fire pit on its Northern shore. I can just picture it: this year, when we reach the lake, its surface is dancing, so wind-chopped we can hardly hear each other speak as we crouch on the rocks along the shore. The dull grey skin of each swell puckers as it turns on itself, a texture like cellulite or crinkled satin, and as the waves approach our rocks we anticipate and dread their smack in equal measures: the closeness so thrilling, the dousing so chilling! After we have scavenged a substantial heap of semi-dry wood from the surrounding terrain and gotten a fire roaring by any means we can (huffing and puffing at the flame is a popular method, as is fanning it with paper plates that inevitably blow ash in the face of whoever’s working opposite), we proceed to bury the bundles of potatoes we've brought in the embers to bake. While we wait for our meal to cook, we eat, naturally (it is Thanksgiving after all, even if it's in the woods). We set bagels on the rocks around the fire to toast, and munch on fruits, veggies, etc, as well our obligatory mozzarella balls, of course-- not your typical Thanksgiving spread, to be sure, (but then again we’re not your typical Thanksgiving sort of people, or didn’t I mention?) Though it may not taste of holiday to the myriads of sane families at their glowing dining tables, our woodsmoke-flavored forest feast is one of the most delicious meals we have all year, for nothing so fuels the appetite as brisk exercise and fresh air in liberal doses. We do, however, recur to tradition at the end of the afternoon when we punctuate our meal with generous helpings of pumpkin pie. Amen to pie, I say, and amen to generous helpings of it!

A few hours and some excruciating family photos later, we turn back down the trail with spherical stomachs and feather-light backpacks (and good thing, too: the way home’s almost all uphill). 

“I need Zuzu, look thirty-three, Zuzu up next!” a lady with a headset and frantic expression is shouting. A posse of dressers is hustling me to the entrance of the catwalk. I look around me— oh. That’s right, on this particular Thanksgiving afternoon I am not at a lake in Harriman crouching beside a fire pit. On this afternoon I am wearing a newspaper-patterned polyester knit dress (and two other outfits later on—hence the frantic face of this name-hollering wench) for Jason Wu’s runway show in Hong Kong, China. So here I find myself, on the far side of the planet, a 16-hour flight and thirteen time zones away from my family and their fabulous (or freakish?) forest fiesta. Today is Thanksgiving, and I’m alone in a foreign city. Today is Thanksgiving, and I’m at work. 

But if the backstage area of a runway venue doesn't quite resemble a wilderness campsite (though at rushed moments like this it can seem as untame and unpredictable as any wilds I’ve ever seen), it doesn’t change the fact that Thanksgiving is still just that: a day for giving thanks— something that can be performed absolutely anywhere in the world. So, what is it that I’m grateful for as I stand here amid the fray and hubbub of the fashion show? I am grateful for the silent dressers who are so dexterously helping to change my outfit right now, keeping me (and Ms. Headset) from death by panic-attack. I am grateful for the complimentary chocolates back at my hotel room. For the opportunities I’ve had recently; the friends I’ve made recently; the friends I have at home who are so generously supportive. My fiesta-ing familia. 

“ZUZU! NOW!!!” Headset is calling my name one last time, and at this point she’s not the only one. I’ve just scarcely managed to change into my third and final look for the night, and the stylist is tugging at my sleeves in a last feeble bid at perfection as I am manually thrust out onto the catwalk. And it’s still there: that familiar thrill of the performance, that adrenaline singing in my abdomen as I stomp past the rows of chic iPhones poised for photos and chic feet protruding into the aisle. And behind the humming stomach and masked expression I wear, I experience for the umpteenth time this month a gleeful awe at the brilliant-ness of taking gap years. This afternoon in Hong Kong I give thanks for gap years. This afternoon in Hong Kong I feel blessed.

Last Year's Thanksgiving, Harriman NY

This Year's Thanksgiving, Hong Kong