Cover Story


November 15 - 21,2017

Gulf Weekly Stan Szecowka
By Stan Szecowka

A GROUP of servicemen and women are set to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at the Bahrain home of the grandson of a former American president who was responsible for formally setting the date for the annual family festivities.

The kingdom is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the seas of the Middle East and Central Asia, and it includes aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships.

It protects shipping lanes in the Gulf and nearby waters as well as being the naval arm of Central Command, and its aircraft perform combat missions when called upon.

Often, crew members go months without making contact with loved ones back home and, it was for this very reason Hall Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Janice, decided to open their doors last year.

It turned out to be an emotional rollercoaster worth repeating. “Jan and I were thinking that there was a good chance that there might be a number of young navy and marine personnel - men and women - that are here, a long way from home, missing their families terribly,” explained Del. “We wanted to do something.”

“I can’t speak for everybody but at least for our family - the Roosevelt family - Thanksgiving has always been a big one for us. It is right up there with Christmas, it’s above Halloween and equal to a birthday celebration … for us it is a reaffirmation of what family means.”

The couple also knows the feeling of being apart as their grown-up sons, James Austin and Hall Delano II, are back in the US. They stage a Skype dinner/breakfast at 6am Bahrain time with all their family members via laptops strategically placed on empty seats in both rooms beaming live images between California and the kingdom.

They set about serving a full spread for themselves and friends with some special guests after contacting the base’s chaplain to see if he could suggest a half dozen or so youngsters serving their country who might benefit from joining them for a traditional feast.

“We told him that we’d love to have them come over and, sure enough, we had six marines who had been on a ship for who knows how long,” said Del, 58, as he is known to friends.

He is the grandson of late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often referred to by his initials FDR, and First Lady Eleanor, and he is also a direct descendant of former President Theodore Roosevelt. Del is a director of global new business development for Saudi-based Reza Investment Group, vice president of the AmCham Bahrain Board and an executive board member of the American Mission Hospital.

Family matters soon became evident when the young marines settled down at the Roosevelt’s villa in the Northern Governate. Del explained: “We noticed they were being a little quiet when they first arrived, which is understandable, because they were in a new household and they might have been told ‘you’re going to go to this guy’s house and, by the way, his grandfather was President of the United States’ and all of this you know, extra baggage.

“But I could sense there was something else. I said: ‘So are you guys, you OK, you know I hope you weren’t told to be here?’ They all quickly replied: ‘No, no, we’re thrilled to be here,” and then one of them said: ‘Well, if I might, Sir’ do you guys have Wi-Fi? This is very rude, I know, we’re in your home but would you mind if we signed on to your Wi-Fi?”

They explained that although there were ship-to-ship connections, for security concerns they could not communicate further afield whilst on duty on the high seas. Del asked them: ‘So you’re here on Thanksgiving and you haven’t had a chance to talk to your families’, and they replied: ‘that’s about the sum of it’.

“Then all of a sudden we had all six of them rushing to separate rooms and we were breaking out our phones, iPads and laptops.

“It was an experience that Jan and I will never forget,” said Del. “They would run out the room and say ‘Mr Roosevelt, Mr Roosevelt’ would you come, I want you to meet my mum.

“We would go in the room and they’d say: ‘it’s so nice to meet you’. Everyone was in tears, we were crying, the mums were crying, the marines were crying. It was such an amazing moment.

“It really captured the essence of Thanksgiving, a chance to reconnect on a family level and, when you get the chance to do something like this, it makes it all the better.

“We will do it again this year. We have told other families and we expect it to become a multi-family, multi, multi turkey event in our home … and we hope to be able to share the experience and have more young military people come over.”

That’s food for thought for the Roosevelts who couldn’t believe the appetites of last year’s young guests. “We cooked three extra turkeys thinking that should about cover it, along with a green bean casserole, piles of freshly-baked rolls and all sorts of different side-dishes one would have at Thanksgiving, like mashed potatoes and all of that. But you couldn’t find a piece of food left at the end. Mind you, these guys were all enormous and they had so much fun!”

That was par for the course. The centrepiece of contemporary Thanksgiving in the US is a large meal, generally centred on a large roasted turkey, which is only enjoyed once per year.

The majority of the dishes in the traditional American version of Thanksgiving dinner are made from foods native to the New World, as according to tradition the Pilgrims received these foods, or learned how to grow them, from the Native Americans. Thanksgiving dinner is the largest eating event in the US; people eat more on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year.

Turkey is the most common main dish of a Thanksgiving dinner, to the point where Thanksgiving is sometimes colloquially called ‘Turkey Day’.

Most turkeys are stuffed with a bread-based mixture and roasted. Sage is the traditional herb added to the stuffing, along with chopped celery, carrots, and onions. Other ingredients, such as chopped chestnuts, crumbled sausage, cranberries, raisins and apples are often added too.

The consumption of turkey on Thanksgiving is so ingrained in American culture that each year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented a live turkey to the President of the United States prior to each Thanksgiving. They have typically been given a mock ‘pardon’ to great fanfare and sent to a park to live out the rest of their usually short natural lives.

Thanksgiving in the US was observed on various dates throughout history. However, in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday of November. Two years earlier, Roosevelt had used a presidential proclamation to try to achieve this change, reasoning that earlier celebration of the holiday would give the country an economic boost.

Thursday, November 23, is the big day for people to give thanks for what they have. Thanksgiving Day parades are held in many US cities and towns and some enjoy a four-day weekend.

More on Cover Story