Thanksgiving this year was a bit strange for our family. Obviously, I didn’t make it home. My mom ended up in Pennsylvania with my sister, who just underwent some pretty significant jaw surgery. This left my dad to spend the holiday with his sisters in Neosho. Quite the traveling family, huh?
For my part, I spent it walking around the streets of Alice Springs, Australia. It’s a quaint enough little place. About 25,000 people and not many buildings over three stories tall. There were three main issues for me celebrating Thanksgiving in Australia. First, they don’t do a lot of turkey here. The best I could find were cold-cuts, but they didn’t look so good, and a cold-cut turkey sandwich on Thanksgiving just seemed wrong. Second, Alice is about 11 hours ahead of the US in time. So, it was Thanksgiving here, but I couldn’t call home yet, as it was the middle of the night. Third, and perhaps most significantly, there was no football on. This is somewhat traumatic for a red-blooded American male. Turkey, family and football – the three staples of the holiday – all eluded me this year. Oh well, the sacrifices one makes…
I did end up having a large pepperoni Pizza Hut pizza and a Mountain Dew for dinner. Not exactly traditional, but American and excessive. Here’s to you, Thanksgiving.
I woke up at a decent time on Friday, as I had a flight at 12:20. I found a bit of breakfast, and wandered to an Internet café I’d seen the other day. Surprisingly, it was about the only place open at 9:00. I guess no one is in a big rush in Alice.
The café was run by an expat American who talked a lot. He went on and on about this and that, about how he had been in Australia for so long he’d forgotten it was Thanksgiving, about how he loved the Dallas Cowboys, blah, blah…
Indeed, it was still Thanksgiving in the US, and I used the little miracle of Skype to call my family to wish them a happy holiday. By the way if you haven’t gotten on to Skype yet, you are missing out. It’s freakin awesome.
At 10:00, I wandered over to the Baby Kangaroo Rescue Centre. A cutie from the Netherlands told me about it the day before when we went to the movies, and showed me pictures of little joeys running around. I had plenty of time until my airport shuttle, so I decided to swing by.
The shelter was very small – squeezed between two larger buildings. You’d probably miss it if you weren’t looking for it. I slipped in, paid my five dollar donation and joined the four or five other people the director dude was giving his little spiel to. Apparently this guy and his wife have dedicated a big part of their lives to saving babies from momma kangaroos who have been hit by traffic on the highway. You can tell the dude is really passionate about it.
Behind the director on a small patch of earth were four little joeys eating out of a small trough. They really were cute – each of them about a foot and a half tall, sandy brown fur, long tails and big Yoda ears.
The director was talking about how many of them they find each year and how there are people in every town in Australia who have volunteered to take orphans in. He mentioned how the government doesn’t help them at all – stating there are enough kangaroos in Australia. I should imagine it would be a little like someone in the Midwest setting up a deer sanctuary.
He went on, telling us how to take care of them on the event of finding one. He recommended carrying a spare pillow case in the car with you, which seemed like a strange suggestion. But, of course we found out why a couple minutes later. He walked over to the group of babies and picked one up. It started thrashing and clawing and was generally pissed off. Once he set it down it settled down a bit, but still seemed a little agitated. It didn’t like being held – not one damn bit.
The dude then grabbed a worn white pillow case from a nearby chair. He bent over in front of the joey and lowered the open white bag to eye level. In one smooth motion, the baby did a graceful front flip right into the sack. It was awesome. It ended up with its head and hind feet sticking out of the top of the bag. We all started laughing. It was really, really cool.
The guy asked a cute girl near me to sit down and hold it. She held the baby, well – like a baby. It was surreal to see this girl holding a baby kangaroo - its head and feet sticking out of the top of a pillowcase.
The director looked at me and asked if I’d like to hold one. Well hell yes! He then went over to another joey with a pillowcase. He dropped it in front of what looked to be the largest of the babies. It turned eagerly to the sack and without hesitation perfectly replicated the front flip into the bag. The dude told me to sit down and then handed me the baby. It was a pretty cool feeling. Not too often you get to hold a baby kangaroo. The director said his name was Oliver. His little head stuck out of the top – his hind feet nearly touching his nose, and his long tail curling around behind his back.
The director got the other two into their bags and handed them to two other people. It was entertaining to watch – they just jump right in. Once we were all settled, he told us that he likes for people to hold them for at least 10 minutes, just to make it easier on them.
Oliver stuck his head into the pouch and covered his eyes with his paws. He was surprisingly light, weighing maybe 8-12 pounds. At a couple of different points, he stuck his head out of the pouch and looked around, and proceeded to lick the back of my hand.
The director said Oliver was a red kangaroo, which would eventually grow to around two meters. Holy Crap! Just for some perspective, I’m 2 meters, 6 centimeters. I looked around at the others holding their kangaroos. Everyone, young and old had a big smile on their face.
15 minutes later, a few more people had joined us, and I handed Oliver back over to his caretaker. I thanked the director and his wife for everything, and headed to catch my flight.
About an hour later, I climbed onto my airplane and found my row. As I sat down in my seat, a woman walked by that looked familiar – she recognized me to. She was holding a baby kangaroo this morning with me. She smiled and said, “You know, I looked over at you, and it made me happy to see such a big guy with such a big smile on his face.”
Guilty as charged. Ask any of my friends with kids – I’m not overly comfortable with human babies. But kangaroos… I can’t deny it – it was really, really cool. A pretty cool Thanksgiving (day-after, anyway) on one front.