Friday, November 24, 2006

Turkeys Galore

OK, so Thanksgiving is over, and all the turkeys are consumed until Christmas. Or one would think.

My parents have a deep freeze and an apparent compulsion to collect turkeys. I don't know where they all come from; I thought that most of the free turkey offers went the way of $1.50-a-gallon gasoline.

For several years, my wife has been asking my mother what the count was for frozen birds in their freezer, and every time the answer came back, "None of your business." Somehow, we would eventually find out, at least a general count for the small army of large poultry residing in the frozen turkey mine. Sometimes we'd weasel it out of my sister, who could occasionally spy on the cache, sometimes my mother might let a hint slip in conversation, as in, "Then the fifth one was free..." or "...we didn't have any room for number eight, y'all want some carrots?"

This year, I don't know if her guard was down or she was just weary of the game, but we actually found the total value of the stash. Visible in the photo are eight of the remaining nine turkeys, after the one that was cooked on Thursday. And one was deployed to my sister's house. The mystery solved, we can finally rest.

For this year.

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.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I Thought it Would Never Happen To Me

Last week, as I was sitting in my recliner, relaxing after a day at work, my wife handed me a piece of mail that come for me that day. I felt important. I seldom get mail these days, unless you count the solicitation to be the patsy for another credit card company, a special offer of $15,000 off the Chevy of my choice, or one of the endless utility bills. This was hand addressed to me. Personally.

As I gazed expectantly at the return address, I first noticed that it was from my home town of Texas City. As my eyes moved up the lines, I realized that is was from the “Class of ’77 Reunion Committee”. A little jolt of excitement shot through me, a reunion was imminent. Since I had missed more than I had attended over the years, I decided then and there that I was GOING TO GO to this one!

As I greedily opened the letter and glanced over the page that was printed on someone’s inkjet printer, I was arrested by the apparently erroneous information at the top; it said something about the 30th reunion. Thirty years? How can that be? It seems like just a short time ago I was on the yearbook staff snapping pictures of fellow students in the halls and classrooms. Dragging Palmer, going to the Tradewinds Theater to see Smoky and the Bandit, giving Lynrd Skynrd three steps!

I quickly looked at the bottom of the letter to see who was responsible for this mistake. There I saw the familiar names of my classmates and/or their wives who had taken the names of their high school sweethearts. My mind reeled, and I hastily did the math...hmm, 2006 minus 1977 equals 29 plus the May graduation date and the scheduled August 2007 party date...comes to, it can’t be...a full thirty years. THIRTY YEARS!

They weren’t wrong. I was an old geezer, uh, AM and old geezer. My girls chuckled at hearing that grand number bandied about. The oldest graduated two years ago, the print on her graduation program is still barely dry in my estimation. The middle one is yet two years away from that great day in her life. And my youngest thinks The Little Mermaid is a quaint old-time movie.

I am determined to get to this gathering of my old friends and rivals. I may finally accept that I am one of the aging teens drifting through the reality that has become the future. Did I turn out as I had imagined I would? Who knows, I didn’t even have any idea that one day I would be staring down the barrel of a 30 year reunion.

I have heard that the farther out the reunions get, the better they get. It becomes not about how good looking you are, or what your dad does for a living. Reports state that the higher the number, the more it becomes about who you are and who is important to you. I am anxious to reconnect with old classmates and see what they have experienced. And to remember some of the fun we had as young goofballs.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Future Rant

I feel one coming on: a rant based on the fact that I got a notice from "the committee" about my 30th High School Reunion. I was floored, my girls were amazed.

So watch for this one in a week or's going to hit hard.

Monday, November 13, 2006

This Coffee Tastes Like...

UgH! COFFEE! Yeah, I’m a coffee ninny, this is an established fact, backed up and admitted to in writing. But sometimes, especially Monday afternoons, I need a mild jolt that only the dark potion can give.

And yeah, I brought it on myself, but this time I tried to be an adult about the amount of sweet appeal that I applied. Big mistake. I feel like a child being forced to take castor oil or Echinacea extract. This substance is not to be imbibed for pleasure. I am convinced of that.

Some say that it’s an acquired taste, like beer or cabbage. My response to that statement is that a person can get used to living next to a swine farm, too. Why you’d WANT to is beyond my comprehension.

So you cops, Coasties and insomniacs can have your black coffee…pass the sugar please, in a front-end loader.

I finished it like a man, though. A big sissy girly-man...

Monday, November 06, 2006

1000 Bananas

Lest anyone forget what a pill I could be as a child, I have yet another anecdote for the bulging file. I’m not making any excuses, but it goes back to the innate need for everything to look whole and complete. This has been covered in other articles.

As a child, at my grandmother and grandfather’s house during the day, we had it pretty good. There wasn’t much snack food or coke to be had there, but sometimes there were frozen figs or frozen pineapple to cool us on those hot, sticky Texas City summer days.

I liked bananas, too. The only thing that kept a banana from being perfect was the penchant they had for breaking. That was an action I couldn’t tolerate. For some reason, I felt as though I could not eat the disfigured fruit.

The sad thing is, GranMommy usually peeled them for me. That in itself was not sad; any grandmother would do that for their grandchild. What set this woman apart is the fact that when she peeled a banana, if it broke, I would reject it. Upon my snub of the proffered treat, she would eat the wrecked banana. She would try again. If THAT one crashed, guess what? Right, I didn’t eat it. Wouldn’t touch it. So she ate that one. Looking back, I now recognize the expression on her face as a prayer for strength; for her and the banana.

I am not sure how many bananas that old lady ate trying to appease the persnickety little boy, but I am almost certain she never had a potassium deficiency.

In her later years, she seemed to lose patience easily, and I feel responsible for using up so much of it in my youth.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Slip Sliding Away

Cheap shoes make your feet stink. Everybody knows this. When you’re old and married, you don’t think that much about it. Your victi—uh, spouse, can just move away, ignore the smell, or take her own cheap shoes off to fight fire with fire.

When you’re young, in love and obsessed with projecting the perfect image to your loved one, the scent of sour feet is not acceptable.

So, when I went to visit my betrothed in her apartment one Friday night just weeks before we were married, I decided to wash my feet off in the tub before we went out. Simple, right? All day in those cheap shoes had not done any favors for my feet. It was essential that I get them reborn as quickly as possible.

I was in the bathroom next to her bedroom. Just paces away, she readied herself for our date while I prepared in my own way. I kicked off my shoes and proceeded to make right what was so wrong. I washed the staleness and toxins from my feet without incident. But when I was standing at the back of the tub, wearing my work clothes with the pants legs rolled up, an incident did occur. Apparently, the laws of physics aren’t always posted clearly, but the penalty for transgressing them is always the same. It seems that if your center of gravity is “so high” and you weigh “so much” and the surface on which you are standing is “so slick”, then you should in fact only reach “so far”. In my vigor to get my feet dry and presentable again, I did reach “just so much further” and my feet slipped on the bottom of the cursed tub. There was a certain amount of friction; there were squeaks galore, but not enough traction to keep me from going down. Over and down. My feet went to the left, skated for a bit, and my upper body went right. When my body pitched to the wall, I lead with my cranium, creating a loud THUMP on the tile wall. As my feet continued their descent toward the drain, they declared their desire for grip on the wet porcelain. More long squeaks. Loud ones. Accompanied by several more thumps, of varying volume. That would be dependent on whether there was much muscle over the bones that were impacting the tile/tub structures. Of course, head, elbow and knee make the loudest noise, while a hip has a lower frequency tone.

As I lay in the tub, partly wet, head, elbow, knee and hip throbbing in pain, I became aware of the voice of my future wife calling out to me in my injured state.

“Are you all right...?”


It was only a few seconds later that I realized that her caring inquiry was interrupted by suppressed gales of laughter. These gales quickly gathered strength and lost control.

Needless to say, by that time, my body was not the only thing bruised.

“I’m not laughing that you got hurt,” she managed to choke out, “I’m laughing at the sound of the squeaking and the thuds...” This statement was punctuated by the stifled laughter which eventually gave way to all out guffaws and cackles.

Only now can I laugh about this as well as she, and her glee is still strong after more than 20 years. It is the essence of comedy: somebody gets hurt in a funny way, and people laugh. I almost feel honored to be an active participant.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

All Saints (Have a Candy Hangover) Day

Well MOST of the Saints do, anyhow. I didn’t participate in the “handing-out-of-candy” ritual last night. It just so happened, as I am sure everyone is aware, that Halloween fell on a Tuesday this year. Which coincides exactly with my teaching of graphic design classes at San Jacinto College in the evening.

So, in the name of Education (and in the name of “if-I-don’t-show-up-I-don’t-get-paid”) I went dutifully to class last evening. I had students looking expectantly to me to somehow oblige them in the celebration in the name of all things sweet and greedy. “Sorry”, I told them, “but some other instructor looks like they cared, and I think you are welcome to this...”, pointing to the plastic pumpkin half full of bubble gum and tootsie rolls.

On the home front, my oldest had some guys over to eat and eat and pass out candy and eat. I think they accomplished the stated goal. They also watched scary movies till late at night.

My middle daughter was forced at grade point (apparently) to attend the varsity volleyball team’s last game (as it turned out) over in Manvel. She got home quickly, since the team was retired summarily in three games. She just hung out with her sister and the guys.

My youngest, the one most "into" the festivities, was dressed as a little boy; plaid shorts, baggy camo t-shirt and slide-on plaid sneakers. Oh, and a camo-billed Astros hat to cover her girly hair. I haven’t gotten a full report, but I saw the plastic pumpkin full to the brim with loot. My wife accompanied her on the neighborhood blitzkrieg, along with my daughter’s best friend and her mom. The friend was dressed as a boy as well; this had been planned for seven months.

Judging from the bales of candy that were purchased and the near-empty bin used for distribution, either the trick-or-treaters had a good night, or the resident and visiting youths did. I just had the few odd Kit Kat bars and went to bed. My last official act was to bring the pumpkin and jack-o-lantern in; last year, my excellent offering was smashed over night, so I didn’t want to trust this new incarnation to the late night no-goods marauding after hours.

So ends another celebration aimed at kid’s teeth and sense of entitlement. I only wish we could harness the energy generated and expended for good rather than fat and cavities. Think of the distances we could drive powered by Snickers bars and gummy eyeballs!