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A real western Thanksgiving
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A grey gloomy sky dropped suddenly over the jagged edges of the Zailiysky Alatu Mountains sending a chilling reminder that winter was now enveloping Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The massive Pik Talgar stood more than 15,500 ft. above us, casting a long dark shadow over the city. Even though it was only November we were already into the depths of a frozen icy winter.

Fall ended way back in September.

I sat with a small group of American businessmen in the very Soviet style restaurant of the Dostyk Hotel in the center of what was then the capital of Kazakhstan.

We are the first real western businessmen to live in the capital. The U.S. Embassy had opened only a year earlier and each one of us had been sent to establish business relations with the government and the ministers that controlled the newly independent country.

As we sat there at the end of the day the topic of Thanksgiving surfaced.

None of us would be back in the States for the holiday so the thought of hosting a true American style Thanksgiving feast sparked our imagination.

That thought spread quickly the next day as we conferred with our individual staffs on how such a meal was concocted and where we might find the types of food typically presented on a Thanksgiving table? As with most things in Almaty the traditions harked all the way back to 1285 AD.

It was a central stop on the Silk Road and has been known worldwide as the "Father of Apples" because almost every species of apple worldwide can be traced back to the foothills of those mountains.

Baked apples were not going to be a problem. Most of the other critical ingredients were.

Americans will be sitting down this week to celebrate and give thanks for family and the bounty America and our hard labors provide.

Most of us really give little thought to the toil of our farmers and the brilliance of our nation's agricultural infrastructure.

We crowd into our local grocery stores, pile our shopping carts full of a huge variety of food items, fresh vegetables and of course Thanksgiving turkeys. All of these things just show up in the store and few of us have any idea how they are grown, harvested or transported to our table.

Finding a turkey in Almaty turned into a mission.

It was not a staple of the Kazakh diet. There were no turkey farms.

There was no such thing as dressing or cranberries to be found anywhere.

Our small group set upon the mission to find what we could, and turn it into a real western Thanksgiving.

I somehow got assigned the task of finding that turkey.

For a number of days my Operations Manager Vladimir and I scoured the nearby region looking for anything that might resemble a turkey.

Vladimir knew what a turkey was so that helped. Most people had never heard of them much less seen one.

Rumors were that wild turkeys did live up in the mountains, but no one knew exactly where.

I was told by U.S. Ambassador Courtney they were having some frozen one's shipped in for the staff dinner. So we had an out if we couldn't find a local turkey.

It was a challenge to find a home grown bird, but Vladimir loved the challenge. He was out to prove that the post-Soviet system could produce anything, just like America.

Thanksgiving evening arrived in the Dostyk Hotel restaurant. A special long table had been set for our group and our respective staffs. The kitchen began to roll out the feast. Before us was stuffing - sort of. It was mostly steamed apples with some bread crumbs.

There were plenty of potatoes of course and excellent gravy. The region grows some of the best peas you will ever find and the yams had real marshmallows baked on top.

Then out came the turkey.

It sat on a great silver tray garnished with wilted lettuce and boiled beets. The skin of the bird was a golden brown. It looked rather small and frail, but at the same time it was an honorable centerpiece for our celebration.

As the winter snow blasted across the outside of the tall windows in that grand dining room all of us, American, Russian and Kazakh took a moment to go around the table and comment on what we were most thankful for.

Not one word from anyone there differed from the sentiments you will hear around your own Thanksgiving table. We were in fact a family sharing a real western Thanksgiving.

As for that turkey?

Vladimir had gotten a tip that some turkeys might be found near the Kolsaiskie Lakes up by the Kyrgyz border. He asked to go find it alone because of the difficulty of the trip.

I never actually saw what he brought back. Cutting into our grand centerpiece it didn't really matter because everyone around the table was sharing life and celebrating the personal bounty that comes from living.

The bird tasted OK. To this day, I doubt it was a turkey.

Charlie Auvermann is a longtime Dawson County resident and former editor of the Dawson Community News. He is also the executive director of the local development authority.