The long search for a reason to be thankful

EVERY year, we stubbornly observe the American celebration of Thanksgiving. "There's nothing religious about it," I tell whoever will listen, such as strangers in supermarkets. "Yes there is," taunts my wife because I find it toe-curling. "Pilgrims ... Indians ... " I mutter, unsure of the details.

Our Thanksgiving generally presents two problems: 1) We prepare more food than we can possibly eat, and: 2) some American dishes are a little weird, like sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows. But as no one is allowed to eat a proper meal for about five days beforehand, neither is usually an obstacle.

This year when we all sit down, we're beyond ravenous and I resemble a hollow-eyed madman. Ten hours creating a meal to dwarf the average Christmas spread have taken their toll.

I try not to think about the car I abandoned outside the wine shop earlier where it wouldn't start.

My wife collected me in hers, my arms straining under Beaujolais, wild-eyed, bags of marshmallows dangling everywhere.

"Before we eat, everyone has to say what they're thankful for," announces my wife. "But it's not a religious thing," I add through clenched teeth. "Yes it is," she grins. "Nope," I grunt.

"Mmphty-grrmmph," offers the first of our teens through cheeks already ballooning with food. "Um," says the next. "Uh," says the one beside him. "Who, me?" says our youngest.

Even I can't think of anything. It's hard when you're famished and the table is creaking with food. My wife gives up.

Thanks can wait, I think to myself, Karma be damned. We stuff ourselves.

Next day, my wife drops me in her car to jump start mine. I pull the lever under the steering to open the bonnet and it snaps off in my hand. My wife leaves on foot. When I get back from the hardware shop with things to fix the lever, a dog has crapped by the driver's side door, so for 45 minutes I manoeuvre around this mess, cursing and straining to tighten tiny screws deep under the dashboard.

Finally, something springs open so I can try a jump start, but it just dies, so I surrender and call a mechanic, who says he'll be an hour. When he gets here, my lips are blue. He can't start it either. "Have it towed to my garage," he says.


The tow truck is 90 minutes away, so I flee to a nearby pub for warmth. "How did your Thanksgiving go?" asks the owner. "Broke down," I tell him, teeth chattering. "Called AA. They're sending a recovery vehicle." "Yikes," he says, "didn't look like you'd THAT much to drink."

I re-emerge to the tow truck and find a €40 ticket on my wife's car. "Try turning her over," says the guy, giving me all the wrong mental image for a moment.

"Sounds like a faulty key," he frowns, and I tell him I do recall mine coming apart last night. He pauses, then reaches down to the edge of the poop and delicately retrieves a tiny microchip with his nail.

"Lucky," he says. "New one might've cost €200."

I call my wife and we drive our two cars home. Later, when we all sit down to leftovers, I realise I finally have something to say thanks for -- mainly that Karma moved on to fresh kill.

"But you can all go ahead and eat," I say. "This may take me a while."