I can't distinctly remember what my family ever did on Thanksgiving.

It's not that I have memory loss. Being a second-generation immigrant and with no other family for several thousand miles, the Puritan feast turned popular American holiday was mostly lost on us.

Of course, my mother would buy a turkey an abundance of them on sale would facilitate her penny-pinching ways but the bird-meat gingered with traces of turmeric, cardamom and cumin tasted little different from her usual Bengali-style chicken. No dinner rolls nor mashed potatoes ever replaced our plates of rice and vegetables, and to this day I've never sampled cranberry sauce or stuffing.

"Do you want me to make an American-style turkey?" my mother quietly asked me once, perhaps when I was in my early teens, after I'd complained that we weren't like other families, which was particularly obvious around the holidays. Why couldn't we put up a Christmas tree? Where were our presents?

"No, don't bother," I told her, with the cruelty of adolescence. "You probably wouldn't make it right anyway."

I wish I could remember how our conversation ended.

Perhaps the only thing I do remember about the holidays were the parades, the only cultural convention we could claim. I remember sleeping in most Thanksgiving mornings for the better part of my childhood to find my entire family enjoying the marching bands and floats traipsing down New York City's Broadway and Fifth Avenue without me.

Why didn't anyone wake me up? I remember thinking, cruelty now replaced by adolescent stubbornness. I'm part of this family, too! Cold, soggy cornflakes alone in the kitchen always tasted better than letting anyone know about my wounded pride.

I wish I'd known better and had pushed these mindless childhood ideas aside.

Now my only conceptions of a family Thanksgiving are what I've seen on the silver screen: cousins playing flag football, someone in an obligatory floral apron basting a turkey, and second helpings of pumpkin pie.

And then, lest we forget the darker side of America, legendary cartoonist Chris Ware's famous "New Yorker" rendition of the American Thanksgiving, circa 2006: plastic folding chairs, glazed eyes around a flat-screen television and a neon-colored halter top in the corner on her cell phone. (Hey, at least she made it to dinner.)

What Thanksgiving and the ensuing holiday season serves to do, a time when we're asked to re-evaluate our relationships with our loved ones and sometimes with ourselves is no longer lost on me. This will be the fourth Thanksgiving I won't have the opportunity to sit with my family at the table to share a meal and perhaps a few pieces of what's going on in our lives. After my father died in a traffic accident nearly three years ago, my mother and sister left the states out of financial necessity to make a life in Bangladesh, where my mother was born and my sister was raised.

The first Thanksgiving without them, I turned down invitations at friends' homes and spent much of a Thursday in November alone in front of the mirror, staring at myself, wondering why I took them for granted when they were around and why all the shops were closed.

I did see them both earlier this summer, after several years apart, and having enjoyed uninterrupted weeks together, our circular conversations at the table about nothing, and the comforts drawn merely from being near one another, the upcoming holiday season reinforces their absence.

What does Thanksgiving mean to us? What are we thankful for? Now that I'm fairly sure I know, I can't act on it. I hope you can, and that you do.

Staff writer Shajia Ahmad can be e-mailed at sahmad@gctelegram.com.