The First Thanksgiving of This Immigrant Family Who Lived in a Tent While Dad Built Them a House Will Give You Chills

There's nothing like living in a tent without things we had taken for granted, like running water and electricity, to teach you the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

what-thanksgiving-is-aboutTeresa Ambord via Country Extra

The moving truck rolled to a stop on a rocky road. “We’re here,” Dad called out the window. My stepmom, Polly, and I had been riding in a pickup truck following Dad and my sisters, Ruth and Sue, for two long days. I glanced at Polly in disbelief. We were in the middle of a forest!

She just smiled and said, “We’re finally home.”

My parents had sold our house and business back in Huntington Beach and bought 10 acres in the Fall River Valley, 600 miles north. I knew the plan was to camp out all summer while Dad built a cabin on the land. But I’d pictured a tidy campground with real bathrooms, showers and a cute little store. This was only… trees.

Within minutes of arriving, Dad opened the truck and pulled out an outhouse he’d built in the city and then disassembled for moving. “One bathroom, coming right up!” he said. He knew that with a wife and three daughters, this should be the first order of business. So he went to work putting it together and digging the appropriate hole.

That whole summer we slept in a tent, hauled water 15 miles in big milk cans and cooked on a Coleman stove. We helped clear a space for the cabin’s foundation and served as “gofers” for Dad.

He had built houses many times before, but never under these rough conditions. The relentless sun made it difficult to pour the foundation, especially without running water. The generator we had for power tools failed often.

As summer wound down and the nights grew cold, the cabin still wasn’t finished. Dad had us move into the shell of the structure where we at least had insulated walls and a woodstove to keep us warm and dry. My little sisters and I did our homework by lantern light around the kitchen table.

Since arriving in the country, my parents had made several new friends who also had building skills. When Dad fell and broke his leg, they pitched in to help us finish before winter weather struck.

First the plumbing went in. We cheered the first ceremonial flush. A cabinetmaker friend built custom storage for the kitchen. Finally, an electrician assisted with the wiring.

Just before Thanksgiving, Dad came into the house one evening, called us to attention and said, “Let there be light!” He flipped a switch, illuminating the dining room. Our new friends came tramping up the muddy road carrying a chocolate cake decorated with a lightbulb to acknowledge the victory.

what-thanksgiving-is-aboutTeresa Ambord via Country Extra

After living in a tent without many things we had taken for granted, like running water and electricity, we learned the true meaning of Thanksgiving. On the holiday, my family gathered together around the table, and I appreciated our traditional meal of turkey, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and dressing more than ever.

In our new home, it was so easy to see the immense blessing in simple things. We had survived coming as strangers into the country and made dear friends who helped us put a house together.

The experience of building a cabin in the forest did more to bond us as a family than modern conveniences ever could. I am grateful for every day we were privileged to live in that beautiful valley.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest