The readers of this column may already know that Thanksgiving is my most favorite holiday. I have celebrated every Thanksgiving holiday with my family and friends going back to 1969, the year of my arrival to America as a college student.
From my first Thanksgiving to the present day, this holiday warms my heart and increases my love for my adopted country ever more. It may be because I am a first generation American; a pilgrim of sorts. My adopted country gave me so much that no matter what I do in return never seems to be enough.
My prayers have always been answered and for that I am more thankful than I can express in this article. As a child growing up in Turkey, listening to my father’s stories of life in America in general, and in Indiana where he studied and later taught at Purdue University in the thirties and and the forties, I always had the idea of living in America in my heart. I remember lying in bed as a ten-year-old, praying that someday I will get to go to this magical land my father talked about so much and crying myself to sleep.
Every time my dad went to America on business trips, he would return with various gifts for us; colorful story books, beautiful pens, notebooks with pages which did not smear when I wrote on them with my fountain pen, and Converse high-top basketball shoes, which I almost did not want to wear in fear of ruining them.
America was to me the still color photos I watched over and over in my brown Bakelite Sawyer’s Inc. View-Master, which my dad brought back from another long trip to America in 1957. I kept this viewer for a very long time before I gave it away. It came with several wheels containing still photos, which you would pop in and click through, watching photos almost in 3D. “Mouseketeers” with a very young Annette Funicello and “Daniel Boone in Kentucky” happened to be my favorites, even if I had no idea what or who they were at the time.
When I was offered a scholarship to play soccer and attend the University of Maryland in 1969 part of my dream was realized. I was going to America. Arriving at the Idlewild Airport (now called Kennedy) from London on a Pan Am jetliner, I probably felt like the Pilgrims who arrived at the Plymouth Rock a couple of hundred years before me.
As soon as I stepped off the plane I said a silent prayer and asked God to make sure I get to stay and live in this country of my dreams.
During one of my years as a student-athlete at Maryland, I remember driving down to Miami in 1970 with four other Turkish soccer players from the Maryland team squeezed in a two-door 1967 Mercury Cougar for spring break, arriving in Miami on a beautiful morning and seeing for the first time the beautiful beaches, the blue waters of the Atlantic, magnificent palm trees and glamorous hotels dotting the beach, enjoying sunshine every day and praying that God will allow me to live in this area of America someday.
My prayers were answered for both wishes. I live in America and I live in Florida. I am thankful for both and on Thanksgiving Day when I will say my prayers before sharing our special meal with family and friends, and I will thank God for responding to my prayers.
In the last 47 years when I lived in my adopted country many people touched my life and have given me love when I needed it, support when it was necessary, and welcomed me into their homes and their hearts without asking for anything in return.
I am thankful to all these people wherever they may be now.
I am thankful to my wonderful wife who shared the happy days as well as the sad days with me for the past 43 years, stood by me throughout my career, and gave me two most precious gifts anyone can ask for: my son and my daughter.
I will continue to give back to America and my local community without asking for anything in return, and hope that I was somehow able to pass this tradition on to my children, who will pass onto their children that THIS IS AMERICA; a special place, and giving and being thankful is a great part of being an American.
Please keep the members of our armed services serving all around the world, as well as our first responders, who make this day possible for all of us, in your hearts and your prayers.
Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may God bless America.
Tarik Ayasun is president of the Marco Island Charter Middle School Board of Directors and has given many years of community service to various organizations. Contact Tarik Ayasun at firstname.lastname@example.org.