In this week’s newspaper column, I spent some time bemoaning the loss of many Thanksgiving traditions, especially the theme of family togetherness being replaced by crass commercialism in the form of Thanksgiving day retail shopping. Today is Friday and I spent part of my day rethinking that position but I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll show you what I published and then tell you what I’ve come to in my thinking. Here is the column:
Happy Thanksgiving – hah!
Thanksgiving always brings out the sentimentalist in me. Even after almost 70 years, I still have vague syrupy memories of traveling to my Uncle Bernard’s farm for the holiday; it was a time when everything moved slower and the food tasted much better. I suppose that’s why I sit down near the holiday and try to write something about being thankful with a tinge of nostalgia, something that would leave me and you with a warm, fuzzy ‘‘over the river and through the woods” feeling.
But it gets harder and harder each year. I doubt that my grandchildren would even understand there was a time when my brother and I would spend the Holiday morning trying and finally catching a couple of Aunt Lucine’s big fat hens and sticking them under the washtub to await their date with the oven. When we had them captured, my Aunt or Uncle would dispatch them to that great chicken yard in the sky using either the neck wringing method or an axe and the tree stump. Whatever method they chose, the headless bodies still flopped around in the blood spattered snow while we scurried around getting a wood fire going under the water in the big cast iron pot in the back yard. We needed hot water to dip the carcasses in so that the feathers could be pulled off. The smell of those hot, wet feathers should have been enough to turn me off chicken of any kind for life but the end justified the means in this case.
The game of Monopoly after Thanksgiving dinner for the kids is also long gone; the holiday has evolved into a four day long binge of watching football on television sets the size of Rhode Island and turkeys so pumped up with chemical additives that a small pickup truck is needed to get them home. Those are the memories my grandchildren will have.
But now, even that’s in danger. A few years ago, – I don’t remember how many -, the god of retail merchandising introduced a concept called Black Friday that sent the bargain hunting public piling into stores on the day after Thanksgiving to fight over heavily advertised specials, resulting in predictable violent encounters. As a result, the national death toll for Black Friday stands at 4 with hundreds of minor injuries and dozens of walking wounded.
This year, we’re going to have a chance to add to those totals on Thanksgiving morning. K-Mart has announced that they will be open at 6 A.M. on the holiday to peddle their Chinese made retail goods.
I won’t be there. I’m sticking to my tradition of the last 49 years; spending the day trying to fool my wife, Susie, into actually swallowing an oyster. I have told the story of her aversion to oyster dressing at least once in this space but it was about ten years ago so it bears repeating.
My Uncle Mike lived in Loogootee, Indiana and was the guy who provided me with my first taste of turkey and oyster dressing. He didn’t own a car so he would walk downtown and come home dragging a live turkey on a leash like a big reluctant puppy. I never knew how it ended up on the table since he never revealed to me his method of snuffing out Mr. Turkey. One thing I did know was that he made oyster dressing which tasted like the nectar of the gods. I could never understand how he did it. Here it was 1950 and a man who couldn’t drive a car and who lived at least a thousand miles from the nearest oyster came up with a turkey stuffing that made your mouth water.
Well, naturally, when I had a family, I tried carrying on Uncle Mike’s oyster dressing tradition but unfortunately no one in my family would eat it.
“I’m not eating anything that squeaks when you bite it.” Susie told me. I have tried unsuccessfully since our first Thanksgiving together – 49 years – to get her to try some and I’m ready to throw in the towel. She’s never going to eat an oyster.
There are a couple of other things that are making me glum. I feel bad that my children and grandchildren will never get to experience that feeling of going over the river and through the woods to Uncle Bernard’s house.
But even more worrisome is this; here we are, in the twenty first century and the generation that taught me to prepare a chicken for cooking is gone. My generation and my children’s generation will be bowing out of the picture some day and I’m afraid my grandchildren will believe chickens are manufactured by the Tyson people.
Well, damn. I set out to tell you how thankful I am on this holiday but the curmudgeon in me took over. Sorry. It really wasn’t necessary, anyway. If you just look around, none of us have to look too hard to find reasons to give thanks. Even though it sounds trite to say it and even more old fashioned to actually believe it; family and friends, life, liberty and the occasional pursuit of happiness are what the day’s all about. Oh, yeah. There’s also that Black Friday thing tomorrow.
Excuse me, make that Thanksgiving Morning.
That was my story. As I have gotten older, I seem to want more and more for my holidays to be filled with tradition the way I remember them. But yesterday, I realized I can’t trust my memory anymore. My tendency is to look at them through rose colored glasses and forget the bad parts. For example, take catching those chickens. I remember it as being such fun but if I think real hard, the truth is that those chickens scared the crap out of me. I wasn’t more than 6 or 7 and my brother was even younger. When you grabbed a chicken, they started flapping their wings, digging their chicken feet into any exposed flesh and flashing their peckers at your fingers. It was terrifying. And then, when you raised the washtub up to throw a chicken under it, any chickens that were already under there would escape and we would have to start all over again. And the roosters, I would tell you about the roosters but what’s the use?
Suffice to say that I came to the conclusion yesterday that yesteryear was not all hearts and roses. So if people want to shop, let them. I’m not going to join them however; we drove by the Wal-Mart last evening and the parking lot was overflowing with cars parked in the grass and up on the curb. I’ll pass. I don’t need a Duck Dynasty tee-shirt that bad. Actually I don’t need one at all.