Thanksgiving of yore: The great family get-together
The fourth Thursday of November is definitely the bestest holiday. Food, Family, Friends and Football. Four of the five F's. I most fondly remember the Thanksgivings of yesteryear. The big, old family reunions, which I looked forward to, until about 5 seconds after I hit the driveway, then it all comes back ... why I left home. And they always made me sit at that stupid fold-up cardboard kids' table. Never got to graduate to the wooden table because none of them would die. Darn medical advances.
Thanksgiving was my mother's designated holiday, and she thought she was cooking for the 8th Tank Battalion. Every year she'd seek out a mutant poultry farm and buy a turkey the size of a La-Z-Boy recliner, so it was turkey for weeks. Turkey till YOU trot. Turkey sandwiches, turkey salad, turkey a la king, turkey shakes, until finally, turkey carcass in hot water. Soup? No, Ma, it's skeleton juice. Gobble till you wobble.
These were potluck occasions, with every family responsible for schlepping their version of a vision of a side dish. Lime Jell-O with olive shreds in it. Because green food is nutritious food. Oyster-raisin dressing. Lamb pudding. Creamed rutabaga. Beet-pear slaw. Hollowed-out pickles filled with ranch dressing and cheese curds. Herring balls.
Thirteen-bean salad. No, I wish I were making this up. I had no idea there were 13 different types of edible beans. I had no desire to eat them all at one sitting. I certainly would not have chosen to be in a houseful of 23 other people who had eaten 13 types of edible beans. "Crack a window, Billy. Well, break it then." Candle flames turning blue all over the house. "Methane is our friend."
Dinner is delayed because my mother's sister is late, and four assembled families who last ate at breakfast are taunted by the fowl perfume of a roasting turkey for six hours and are as frenzied as coyotes suspended over a yard full of wounded bunnies. All of the nuts and chips and some of the throw-pillows and smaller children have long since disappeared.
My aunt finally arrives accompanied by her bizarre mystery food. Seems innocent enough; a glass Pyrex dish with tinfoil on top. International symbol for normal food, I believe. But no, it's a food ruse. A culinary ambush. Lift the foil and this stench shoots straight up. Ceiling tiles curling at the edges. Three rooms away watching football, grown men go, "The hell was that?" Children crying uncontrollably, "Daddy, I'm scared."
A greasy, grey mass that appeared to be boiling, but is nowhere near any apparent heat source. Round, misshapen objects floating to the surface. Nobody would go near it. Somebody made a feeble attempt and the spoon broke. Mom elbows me in the side: "Billy, try some of Aunt Hoogolah's Dupamouche." "OK, Ma, let me get a separate plate." The old separate plate trick. We lost more animals that way.
The evening ends with two matriarchs locked in a mortal death clinch, bumping bellies on the back porch with 100 mm. menthols dangling from their mouths while their spouses trade wild, drunken blows on the driveway and the kids pelt them with greasy poultry bones from behind raked piles of leaves. Aah, memories. And that was way back in 2009. Some traditions never die. This year, I'm bringing the Dupamouche.
Will Durst is a San Francisco-based humor columnist.