Excerpt from Chapter 11.3
Question: How do you get a free Thanksgiving dinner in Belgrade? Well, if you're a first tour Junior Officer in the Foreign Service, and a bachelor with no known cooking skills, you're on everybody's pity list. Still, I do feel a little guilty about that first year in Belgrade, when I cadged invitations to not one, but four Thanksgiving dinners, one entirely by mistake. In honor of Thanksgiving Day, here is my story of gluttony and excess, in the best traditions of the holiday.
Thanksgiving Day dawned in Belgrade with a chill in the air and the promise of snow. But I was not concerned about that. I had received three invitations for Thanksgiving Dinner, and had, in typical predatory twenty-something fashion, accepted them all. My first victims -- uh, hosts -- were the Hutson family. Tom was a mid-level Foreign Service Officer on his second tour as head of Belgrade's Consular Section. He was married to Arija, an attractive blonde Latvian-American, and had three children: Peter, Bessie and Amy. Arija was known to be a very good cook.
Tom and Arija lived in the Diplomatska Kolonija, a semi-American/suburban neighborhood in the Topčidersko Brdo area, where many other foreigners also lived. I found the place with some difficulty, but eventually drove up to the right address and rang the doorbell. Tom answered with a bit of surprise on his face, but then invited me in and introduced me to his other dinner guest, an Iranian diplomat by the name of Sami, who had been stationed in the United States a few years earlier. I remarked to Tom that I couldn't stuff myself as I normally would have, because I had two other Thanksgiving dinners I had to go to that day. Tom laughed and said to eat up anyway, which I did. It was only later, when I was at my next stop, that I checked my invitation and found out I had come to Tom's house a day early! I called up to apologize, but Tom said never mind, and insisted that I come back the next day to the other Thanksgiving dinner he and Arija were giving.
My second stop was an all-Embassy affair primarily for needy Junior Officers who had no place to go on Thanksgiving Day. We all stuffed ourselves and talked about the football games that we would have been watching had we been in the United States (with the advent of the Internet, times have certainly changed in that respect). Then a few of us staggered off to our next engagement. I'm not entirely sure who was giving the evening Thanksgiving dinner, but it must have been either the Tices (Don was my boss in Political) or the Millers (Dudley was our DCM). Whoever it was, I once again succeeded in eating them out of house and home and got back to my small apartment on the Embassy compound relatively late.
I woke up around noon, just in time for the Thanksgiving Dinner I had actually been invited to at the Hutsons. This time, I found the Diplomatic Colony with little trouble. It struck me as a little strange that Tom was giving two Thanksgiving dinners, but I later found that this was typical of him: once he got a project in his head, he tended to go overboard. This was a quality that marked him forever -- a “fault” that was far outweighed by his good will, generosity and lack of pretensions. I tried to be polite and had seconds, but after that, I was done. I spent the rest of the day in recovery, devoutly hoping never to see another turkey again -- at least until next Thanksgiving. The following year the Hutsons had transferred to Winnipeg, and so were acquainting their Canadian contacts with the glories of American excess. I limited myself to two Thanksgiving dinners, and congratulated myself on my moderation.