My Thanksgiving abroad went by unnoticed on the organic farm where I am living and working for a week. Of course, it was already Friday in New Zealand when everyone back in the U.S. began celebrating in grateful gluttony. But the big event on the farm was Mork’s execution. Mork and Mindy are the two resident pigs, but it was decided that Mork would make a fine Christmas ham and he would have to be slaughtered this week to be ready in time for the holiday meal. That morning I passed by Mork and Mindy snuggled in their pen, blissfully soaking in the sunshine and lightly grunting in their sleep. Dreaming of delicious slop, no doubt, with no way of knowing what was in store. I was weeding the carrots when the truck pulled up at 10 am. “Home Kill” it said in bold red letters on both sides of the truck. That’s an advertisement you won’t soon forget.
It wasn’t long before the Home Kill professional made his way over the the pen, rifle in hand. There’s nothing elaborate about a Home Kill operation, apparently. The two young German boys who are also working on the farm wandered over to get a closer look and take some photos. I just kept weeding, but occasionally looked up for an update on the action. After about ten minutes of the executioner negotiating with the pigs I heard the crack of the gun. Mork’s bulging, limp body was then placed onto the front loader of the tractor. His flopping hoof seemed to wave farewell as the tractor unceremoniously carted him over near the Home Kill truck to be further cleaned for the butcher. The executioner drove away a short time later, leaving behind a dusting of wiry swine hair on the grass, a bucket of innards, and Mork’s pink and bloodied severed head. It was certainly a new experience for me in farm life.
Perhaps the execution day left me a little more emotionally charged than usual, but I was shocked when a wave of homesickness socked me right in the gut. I really didn’t think I’d feel sad to miss out on the feast back home. I rationalized that Thanksgiving is really just another glaring example of the American hypocrisy which I’m fed up with anyways. A holiday devoted to patting ourselves on the back for the wonderful friendship we established with Native Americans. A convenient distraction to the near demolishment of their population, unlawful seizure of land, and forced relocation which followed that first, picturesque potluck. But I digress. I really don’t even like turkey that much. Then I saw the pictures and messages from friends. I remembered how much I loved dressing up in costumes with my roommate and running the Annual Turkey Trot every Thanksgiving morning through downtown Austin, TX with 100,000 other Austinites. I’m always still hurting from our Thanksgiving Eve pub crawls. I thought about all the different ways I’ve celebrated over the years. With family, friends, and coworkers. Then, out of no where, my eyes were filled with tears. I was having a Thanksgiving cry! I felt as blindsided as poor Mork.
Later that afternoon I dumped my bucked of pulled weeds over into the pen for Mindy. She trotted over and began to root through them with excited snorts. I wondered if she will miss her companion or if she’ll be happy to have all the scraps to herself. The thing about loneliness is that you don’t actually have to be alone to feel it. Living in a foreign country while your country’s holiday is celebrated back home can make you yearn for the familiarity of even the silliest of traditions. Sitting on the sidelines of a conversation because you don’t speak the same language is incredibly isolating. Meeting new people all the time, but not really getting know know anyone well, feels lonely. Loneliness is a very uncomfortable feeling, but I do believe it is an important one to experience at times. If you’re never without family and close friends I don’t think you fully appreciate the value they add to your life. I didn’t realize how much my Thanksgiving traditions meant to me until I was in a place where such traditions are completely foreign and not recognized. So on this Thanksgiving in New Zealand I am thankful for the people in my life who know the good, bad, and ugly about me and still love me. I am grateful for all of the fun memories and traditions I’ve made throughout the years and the new ones I’ll make in the future. But mostly I am thankful that I will never have to be a Christmas ham. Rest in peace, Mork.