Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey Schmurkey

Of all the Thanksgivings and all the turkeys that I have consumed, there are three of the days that stand out in my mind, and only one of them involves a real (formerly) live cooked turkey.

The first one that is burned into my memory wasn’t at home and the target of our palates was barely qualified as a turkey. My parents had chosen to go camping in East Texas somewhere. My mother had carefully chosen the menu for the Thanksgiving feast; items that could be easily prepared in the “kitchen” of our 18 foot Mobile Scout travel trailer. There were no sweet potatoes with marshmallows and green bean casserole; the oven was the size of a Stetson hatbox and the burners were only the size of postage stamps. I don’t even remember the side dishes; they were obviously simple and most likely canned. The “bird” was a roll of processed turkey meat commonly referred to as a turkey loaf. It was smaller than a football and resided in an aluminum coffin. This we ate under the canopy of hardwood and pine trees, with the cool fall air surrounding the Mobile Scout. Thus ends the remembrance of the actual meal.

So why is this such a memorable Thanksgiving? Why did the meal only rate a paragraph? Well, ‘cause it wasn’t the meal that made it Thanksgiving. It was roaming around the campsite, poking the fire, and enjoying the clear air, chopping or sawing on firewood. My Dad sitting listening to the Aggies play the Longhorns. So it was the whole experience.

The next one was the traditional Thanksgiving, and though uneventful and wholly non-spectacular, it just sticks in my mind. It was when I was 14 or 15, and we were all at our house. Mother had broken out the “good” 1954 china and crystal; it was a Level I holiday meal. Turkey, cranberry sauce (two kinds), green bean casserole, waldorf salad, green pea salad, sweet potatoes smothered with mini-marshmallows, and who knows what else. Suffice to say, it was the whole nine yards.

I suppose the reason for all the finery was that all the grandparents would be in attendance. It was one of the few times that Grandmother Soderberg was with us on Thanksgiving, being that a couple of years before she had gone to live with Aunt Margie and Uncle Clifford. They lived in Galena Park, which isn’t THAT far from Texas City, but in those days when my range extended mostly to La Marque and south to Galveston, anything beyond that was a foreign land.

For that reason, mostly, I suppose that get-together stays with me.

And the absolute most memorable feast of thanks that I hold is the one when I came home from college and we ate at GranMommy and GranDaddy’s house. I was so sick of college cafeteria food that I could scream. And before classes let out, they had served turkey and dressing. Big deal. I like turkey, but I couldn’t say I LOVE turkey. I longed for the Gulf Coast.

That longing was satisfied when we came and readied for the feast. They had bought about 25 pounds of shrimp, and prepared it lovingly (fried, butterflyed, boiled), trout, flounder (stuffed with homemade crab stuffing), oysters (fried) and all manner of seafood-ish delights. GranMommy, ever the creative decorator, had constructed an incredible centerpiece. It was in a crystal punchbowl, a tapering tower of ice adorned with parsley greenery studded with small boiled shrimp on toothpicks; like a Christmas tree with tiny pink ornaments you could eat. And eat we did. That was back when I weighed less and could eat more. Frighteningly more.

I think this particular Thanksgiving embodies the entire spirit of the holiday for me. It isn’t about the food that is served. The traditions from back in 1621 are honorable and worthy of remembering and celebrating. This particular observance, for me at least, came alive by virtue of the things I missed the most while I was in the Hill Country away at college, and the fulfillment that evening is what made me so happy and thankful for what was at home.

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