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The Feast of the Foreigner

Joelle Hattem

My grandparents were born to immigrants in the United States. My Nana, a first generation Irish American and my Papa, a first generation Lebanese American, were Intimately acquainted with the difficulties of early immigration to the United States, their families experienced poverty, and illness, which was sadly often followed by death. With a rough and real world life education, they both tirelessly worked from the time they were children. My pappa survived the beaches of Normandy and saw the end of WWII and my Nana has survived into her 90’s and still lives every day to the fullest. With lives fraught with hardship, perseverance and struggle, they were the most generous, hospitable and celebratory people I’ve ever known. They truly lived the “American dream” in a way my generation will never understand. They worked their way to owning their own home, owning their own businesses and raising many children, some who were not even their own. It seems to me their courage and intimacy with hardship, allowed them the freedom to give. As long as I knew them, there was nothing too precious to be given away to someone in need or anyone they desired to bless.

As restaurant owners and chefs they hosted the grandest feasts and the best parties. Christmas time at Joe and Helen’s was like a dream, a long driveway full of cars, decorations covering every surface of the house, a Christmas tree dripping with lights and ornaments, and gifts that filled the room. The meal was so large it never all fit on the table and laughter always dominated the conversation. Their lives marked this value of hospitality and of celebration. Their doors were always open and there were many “orphans” that were taken in and forever given a place at their table.

Now that I am here in Paris, as an immigrant to this country, I find that same spirit of my grandparents coming alive in me. Last year marked my first experience of the holiday season spent in Paris and I was confronted with the obstacles of cooking a Thanksgiving meal, (without an oven or a turkey and only one can of pumpkin brought overseas by a visiting friend) and celebrating Christmas with little money and without the comfort of American tradition. Although, this year, I have found my sea legs and instinctually am extending my table. Joyfully I am facing all the miniscule and finite obstacles and utilizing every last bargaining resource to host a legitimate thanksgiving meal for all French friends, and a Christmas holiday that will taste and smell of the many lavish parties spent with my grandparents. I find myself searching every market for fresh cranberries, impassioned to make my own stockings and have even found ovens in other people’s homes to utilize in order to prepare these epic meals. I am beyond grateful for the spirit of generosity and hospitality that has been demonstrated to me and I choose, to take up that value and use it not only to bless those around me, but to continue to enjoy the blessings in return.

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