Thanksgiving boasts a storied origin which has evolved into a mainstay of our cultural folklore. I remember the clickety whir of our movie projector in 5th grade.
The old machine sputtered through a muddy technicolor portrayal of American Indians who made peace with the Anglicans and Separatists of Plymouth Rock.
Native Americans blessed the survival of these Pilgrims by electing a lax immigration policy toward crazy White invaders who would soon enough treat them like any unbaptized savage unworthy of Christian compassion.
Native tolerance and trading included teaching settlers how to cultivate and hunt local flora and fauna to avoid certain starvation. I still recall that tired pastoral scene where a Native American places a dead fish into freshly tilled earth with several kernels of corn for the benefit of solemn Puritan onlookers.
For Native Americans, the centuries following Plymouth Rock and Jamestown, chronicle a different kind of lore, heaped generously with free blankets, plagues, broken treaties, and massacre, not to mention cultural, economic, and geographic subjugation. Ugly truth and truthfulness aside, we arrive presently at a national holiday devoted to uncomfortable silences, petty recriminations, and alcohol abuse.
But just for a moment, let’s set aside religiosity, Black Friday, cynical commercialism, and the bitter history which flavors this holiday. And seriously, don’t even get me started on insufferable tension that builds among siblings who drive for hours to put on a good face and feign concern for each other.
Every tribe stomachs its share of pretenders, and puzzles perennially at their arrival to table. I come for the hugs, the feast and football, hoping holiday posers won’t breathe my name, sparing me the theatrics of a polite, concerned response.
In reflection, I choose the high road, electing herein to focus on Thanksgiving’s true meaning: the salivating resolve to power carbohydrates till we reach digestive coma, deepened by the barbiturate splendor of the Detroit’s Lion’s traditional failure to cheat destiny with a Thanksgiving Day win.
For me this ritual means spending time with friends and family who love and tolerate me, in a setting devoted almost exclusively to feasting. And in these trying economic times, we can’t wait to dig into platefuls of comfort made by hands that no longer thumb through recipe books to put on a mouth-watering spread.
Before my sister moved to the wild Republican hinterlands of Nevada, I would join her family of nine for a dinner which never began on time. My sis took a mess hall approach to chow time. Seven kids, a military budget, mountains of dirty dishes, and constant squabbles over KP duty did not inspire the good woman to explore more subtle techniques common to fine gastronomy.
The gravy tasted like liquid salt lick, you could choke to death on the tough old bird’s dry flesh, and side dishes endured extraordinary rendition before finding their way to table in a cold and clotted state. I love my sis dearly and miss her very much. So when this holiday rolls around each year, I wax nostalgic for my missing case of indigestion.
Ya know, men are simple animals. If you want our hearts, you must win our stomachs. Many partners report excellent results, extracting success from lower aim, but invariably concede the temporary nature of such tactics. While I hesitate to run astray of today’s premise, I will point out that temporary successes, when sought as a regular outcome, should stiffen any man’s resolve.
Let your tradition honor good food and the people you love. You don't need a fable to tell you how.
71.4% of my sister’s children remain in San Diego, opting not to rub shoulders with the outlandish rustics who roam the untamed territories outside Reno, Nevada.
I call this band of twenty-somethings my Final Five and would surely ring them first when the Zombie Apocalypse comes–if they don’t embarrass me with squeamishness.
For good or ill, the two oldest follow the strictures of a Vegan cult forbidding the consumption of animal products of any type. In her defense, my niece is an excellent cook who scolds my ravenous appetite for the sautes and hearty tuck that adorn her table.
I officially forgive the gray, amorphous mass posing as their sacramental centerpiece of cult cuisine. Tofurky earns its ignoble reputation as a product of rampant corporate exploitation. These poor creatures endure a hardscrabble existence on agrifarming combines, raised without shelter, exposed to harsh elements on a mean diet of water and chemical supplements.
Near maturity, their hard lives end in final indignity as machines harvest their vital fluids into a curdled milk whose coagulated gore takes shape under the crush of massive mold presses. I refuse to support wholesale slaughter of innocent edamame for the sake of mere tradition!
60% of my Final Five tolerate the dietary idiosyncrasy endemic to elder brother and sister, and will grab a burger before dinner, or choose to prepare a vegan dish. I admire their enthusiasm but not their craft. For want of a rolling pin and counter space my two youngest nephews thumbed bullet proof platelets of pie crust into a Pyrex dish. On this occasion I chose culinary discretion to emphasize other vegan fare, taking counsel from Samuel Adams for sustenance in the hop and barley comfort of his Winter Classics.
"Es una salsa... Muy salsa"
In Southern California the melting pop cliche frequently informs our holiday rituals. My comadre (Mexican slang for gal pal), Cheryl, makes the most amazing tamales as part of her Christmas tradition.
But I can’t wait till late December to make Mexican cuisine part of my holiday groove. Thursday morning I made a beeline for Northgate Market on University Avenue. At 9 AM I stood in line impatiently waiting to order fresh tamales, suspicious that my whiteness could cause delay. After suffering for several minutes, I began whinging in perfect Tijuanense (Spanish with a Norteño accent) that I was dying of starvation. Service came promptly.
My brother and I laid waste to a dozen pork and chicken tamales smothered in Tapatio. With stout hearts and full bellies we proceeded to Vons for a lusty selection of Samuel Adams ales. Beer for Breakfast only comes ’round twice a year–thrice if you observe New Year’s Day. BFB merged into tradition from the need to steel ourselves against reproach from our more righteous relatives who hosted big holiday dinners. While we no longer question the origin of this festive custom, it ain’t a habit. ¡No soy borracho loco yo!
Make your own traditions.
I’m sure that deep within the watered-down, White Trash, Conservative Christian, Redneck, Trailer Park traditions of my cultural heritage, lie the clues which would gladly mandate the way I celebrate the holidays.
But I reject this reality and proudly observe Dr. Jay’s Surefire 4F Method to drive away holiday doldrums. This season will forever celebrate friends, family, football, and fun. If you’re a Chargers fan, you’ll have to settle for 3 out of 4. Stuff your case of seasonal depression, and stuff the damn turkey, ’cause I’m coming up.
Special thanks go out to the Norton’s–my extended family, and all appropriate gods whose cosmic wisdom moved their holiday dinner to Friday afternoon.
I gorged on homemade stuffing riddled with walnuts, cranberry relish with fresh pineapple, slabs of dark turkey, garlicky green beans, creamy mashed potatoes drowning in butter, piled on a deep dish swimming in the robust au jus of a slaughtered beast.
I lay down on their leather sofa, sipping a subtle-but-sassy Cabernet. I did abide my time till I could make room for spicy homemade pumpkin pie, buried under a mountain of whipped cream, and then gobbled a fat helping of banana cream pie to cleanse the palette.
By this time I found my way to final repose on the living room rug, discomfited by digestive delirium, bathing in the digital pulse of their massive flat screen. Ya know, life could suck a lot worse than this. Happy Holidays.