Greeks, Turks, War, and Aspic (Thanksgiving 1967)

Greeks, Turks, War, and Aspic

Thanksgiving of 1967 was our family’s second in Turkey.  Ankara, the capitol, to be precise. My dad was the army attache and as such, all things Turkish and military were in his bailiwick.  Intelligence work was, as my brother and I had been told, part of the job. My dad and mom had decided that living in the part of town where all the foreigners resided was contrary to their mission, so they chose to live in a very nice, very Turkish neighborhood. Life wasn’t easy (think the U.S. in the 1930s), toilet paper and Kleenex were black market gold, but my brother and I adapted. We didn’t have a typical American childhood any way you cut it, but on the other hand, we’d travelled places the rest of the world is only now getting to. Hittite ruins,  Roman aquaducts and ampitheaters, the seven cities of Asia Minor in the Bible, Cappadocia, Nemrut Dag by horseback, sleeping in Kurdish villages, all educated us in ways our contemporaries stateside, weren’t.

We, of course, ignored everything exotic and wonderful when it came to celebrating Thanksgiving, our favorite holiday.

The year before had been a low point in our Thanksgiving celebrations. Turkeys, believe it or not, weren’t available in Turkey. Lamb, however, was plentiful. Lamb does not Thanksgiving make, and my brother and I did little to hide our disappointment. This year, 1967,  my mother had scored like a black market queen. Somehow, the Air Force Attache had flown in turkeys, stuffing, and miracle of miracles, celery, from Germany. My mother, ever the charmer, managed to get some of each, and one big bird. In celebration, she invited all of the attache’ office’s staff for Bird Day. 

Silver was polished, the good linens freshly pressed, extra chairs and tables commandeered, and best of all, the cooking began. Shakir, our Turkish cook, was given a lesson in making aspic the Southern way, with celery. My brother and I kept a close eye on that aspic, mouths watering for the celery within. We’d never before, in all our postings, lived without celery, and it had turned into the Golden Goose in our minds. The big bird was just a bonus. Thanksgiving this year would be the way it should.

 World affairs, unfortunately, paid no attention to my mother’s Herculean efforts to provide a full-fledged American Thanksgiving to the embassy staff and her family.

The night before Thanksgiving, the Greeks pulled one of their military moves on Cyprus that sent the Turks into a bellicose frenzy.  The situation, looking back, was serious, but all we, self-centered teenagers that we were, were concerned with was our sumptuous, American dinner. My mother, undaunted by the prospect of war, started the turkey in the oven early the next morning. Dinner was at 2, and by golly, she was serving it.

The appointed time came and went, and my dad called with the news that the entire embassy was locked down, and no one was going to get to eat The Bird. My brother and I circled like vultures, drooling, past each of thirty or so salad plates set by each place setting, filled with pretty red aspic circles stuffed with celery. We knew we were in trouble when my mother announced she would fill each plate, wrap it up and have dinner delivered to the embassy by our Turkish driver.

As I recall, my brother and I helped jam each plate so full, there was no room for the aspic. Off went dinner in the back of the embassy car, and we three sat down to the remnants. My brother and I grabbed every plate of aspic we could, and proceeded to feast on the tomato-y and celery delight.  What a score! We had the best dinner ever that day, one we remember fondly.

Oh, by the way, my dad called from the embassy the next day, and told me to get on my horse (a stunning,if crazy, Arab stallion named Simuzer), and ride into the countryside, along a certain road, and tell him if any Turkish tanks were rolling. I guess he thought no one would notice an American girl on a flashy horse. I did, tanks were rolling, and I counted every one, like the trained spy I was (not). Such was the life of an army brat.