…My True Love Gave To Me: Thanksgiving.
The first sanctioned Christmas even may have been our church’s Hanging of The Greens Night, but the first real day of Christmas was always–and still remains–Thanksgiving, if for no other reason than we had to get through it to get to Christmas. In hindsight, it reminds me of those signs you see for Wall Drug in the western USA–Wall Drug, 981 miles –>> Yeah, that far, but still: you’re on the right path and boy will it be a good time when you get there.
Not that it was a chore for a kid–relatives magically appeared in my grandparents’ living room, as if brewed from a magical gravy cauldron; food filled the tables as if conjured from some mystical autumnal netherworld. In a tough year I had to help set the table, though I was hardly trusted with the “good dishes” and crystal that, with the exception of three meals a year (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter) rested, inviolable, gathering dust in my grandmother’s corner cupboard.
Looking back, I have to wonder if those glasses were really crystal–hell, even now I don’t even know what crystal is, compared to glass, and it’s not a luxury in which my particular circle indulges (we don’t even have “good dishes,” but a collection of mismatched plates and bowls, the unbroken remnants of several sets bought at thrift shops in Pittsburgh and Philomath, Oregeon–linked not by size or style, but by color–vaguely)–but it seemed remarkably classy to me. We used the “nice napkins,” and they weren’t folded, but rolled and gathered in soft cotton scrolls by napkin rings (napkin accessories? oh brave new world!).
And that wasn’t the half of it. The turkey was always huge–it cooked all day, while I huddled in the living room, a fire in the fireplace, watching Thanksgiving parades on television. I remember waking on Thanksgiving morning, my mother clattering around in the kitchen making some side dish or another to take to Mummum & Grandpa’s house, carols playing in the background, the TV turned on–and up loud–so she could “listen to the parade” while she worked. The Macy’s Parade: giant balloons. More magic. I’ve negotiated with my wife to allow the playing of Christmas carols beginning on Thanksgiving Day, because that’s when it feels right to start.
I’m not a turkey aficionado, but I do appreciate the scent of a good, roasting bird mingled with onions and a hint of celery. We ate late in the day, as the sun set, a typical middle class family (back when America had a middle class) wrapped in the warmth of convention, the illusion of luxury–my wise-ass great-uncle George up from his haunts as a beret-wearing, cigarette-smoking, genuine artist from old town Alexandria cracking jokes about our affected formality in the day, reaching over someone for a gravy boat and quipping, “now, this isn’t done in the best of families” and somehow seeming both polite and, in retrospect, just a little critical of the whole Norman Rockwell dog and pony show. Bemused, that’s the word I want. What I wouldn’t give for a chance to go back and soak up his benevolent raillery as a perceptive adult. There’s a lot more of him in me than a love of turtleneck sweaters and scotch on the rocks.
It wasn’t a holiday of originality–everything was rigidly conventional, as if pulled from the pages of a Thanksgiving manual: turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole with mushroom soup and those odd canned, dried onions crusted on the top, cranberry “sauce” on one of those alleged crystal plates, direct from a can, sliced into magenta medallions, quivering modestly every time someone bumped the table.
We had real butter–not margarine, or “oleo” as my grandfather called it–and, in later years, crescent rolls. Not actual croissants, but the factory-made homage; I know you know of what I speak: fat-laden white bread triangles delivered compressed into a cardboard tube that explodes into full-scale carbo-reality when one bangs it on the side of the kitchen counter–poof!–like freaking David Copperfield (the magician, not the Dickensian protagonist). Unroll the lump of dough onto a tray, separate into triangles–it’s perforated, thank the gods–and roll them into little whatever-shaped rolls. These were the epitome of classy, almost reckless holiday indulgence. Of course, a can of these puppies now goes for over $2.00, making them more expensive, ounce for ounce, than gourmet bread from the bakery, so maybe we were onto something.
I was a kid, and the oldest grandchild by seven years, so my earliest memories were of being the only child at a table full of adults, and like a good kid I kept my mouth shut and listened to the adults-though I really only recall that, with my mother and aunt both being nurses, the conversation inevitably turned to talk of medical procedures and the sloppier aspects of physiology. Yech. Each year around the holidays I see articles on how to remain pleasant in the company of one’s wild-eyed tea-bag conservative uncle, but I think I’d find a swaggering gun-luvin’ Toby Keith Republican preferable to an extended dialogue on the post-surgical complications following a bowel resection. Just keep that in mind when you’re courting: limit family trees to one or less medical professionals–or suffer the consequences in silence.
There was not midnight shopping. There was no shopping at all. In fact, if one forgot to buy something there was one option–a shamefaced knock on the neighbor’s door. Of course this never happened, not at Thanksgiving. Folks planned accordingly–you did last minute shopping, filled the gas tank in the car, and maybe even got a prescription filled. We’re soft, now, and lazy with the expectation of convenience, when with a little planning and a little restraint we could allow everyone to enjoy their holidays. I’m not immune. Last year, visiting my sister, we realized that some items were missing from the pantry and my wife and I heroically volunteered to toss aside our convictions and venture out to WalMart. Our cashier was an 86-year old great-grandmother who hadn’t just been assigned to work Thanksgiving morning, she’d been split-shifted, scheduled to work 6-11 in the morning and 6-11 that evening, and then 6-3 the next morning. What kind of bastards do that to an employee??
We did shop on Black Friday, though I’d never heard that term until sometime in the past decade. For us, residents of a sleepy town in the Alleghenies, it was not about the deals and sales but about variety. It was a time when Main Streets were starting to die, but Malls were still a largely urban and suburban phenomena–like Chinese food. Every year (and it seems like it was forever even though I’m actually talking about a string of maybe 7 or 8 years) we would rise early, drive south to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and pick up my Aunt Jean and her best friend Nell. Uncle Ernie, and Nell’s mysterious, never-seen husband Harry did not attend. I imagined them, at the time, sitting forlornly at home, waiting while we trod the glittering holiday path through Monroeville Mall, the largest Mall in the region at the time, in a Pittsburgh suburb and hour or so east of us. It is more likely Ernie and Harry reveled in their day of peace just as much as I looked forward to a day with the masses.
And It was amazing. The stores were arranged on two levels–if you can believe it–a first AND a second floor, with a large ice skating rink in the center, three large department stores (Kaufman’s, Gimbel’s, and Horne’s), and all manner of small, interesting specialty shops–including an entire store dedicated to just toys. All toys, all the time! And a store full of music–National Record Mart!–a store full of organs. Organs! Some guy sat on a bench at the front of the store and played the organ all damned day–Christmas carols with the automatic bosa nova beat. Wow. All that, and Monroeville Mall was famous, too: ever see the classic zombie movie “Dawn of The Dead”? The one with all the Zombies at the mall? Yup.
I was promptly set loose–and I was rich. My birthday is earlier in November, and I would be flush with gift cash–twenty, sometimes even thirty dollars of it, and that’s in 1970s money. Aunt Jean always slipped me a few extra bucks, and other adults would hand me fives and tens to buy presents for each other. Grandmother: buy something for your mom. Mom: buy something for your sister and your dad. Dad: I’m gonna beat you with a stick if you look at me again. Etc. I had all the Mall to prowl, as long as I met up with the family for lunch at the Horne’s Cafeteria. That’s right. It was a store. With a restaurant inside. Do the marvels ever stop? And they had the best damned grilled cheese sandwiches. Magnificent grilled cheese sandwiches, and they weren’t all smooshed down into a chewy mess like mom’s. These were crispy, yet tender, golden hued, and was it just me or did the “Behold, I bring tidings of great joy…” Angels hovered around the plate when the waitress tossed it onto the table. Sandwiches of great joy. That’s right.
The independence was the thing–just me, a digital wristwatch, and a time and place to meet. I wandered around, enjoying the decorations, the carols, the displays of cheesy mechanical elf figures sawing the same pieces of wood, painting the same toy trains, wrapping the same presents hour after hour, week after week, year after year. I enjoyed the hustle and bustle–all those people, all those packages, all crammed together. The shopping rarely took more than an hour–what kind of 10 year old puts that much thought into presents? The rest of the day I just wandered, taking it all in, reveling. There was just nothing like it at home–no huge crowds, no robot elves, and certainly no wander all day freedom. I was hooked on the novelty of it as well as the excitement.
Each year, on the way home, we would eat at a restaurant called The Corner in New Alexandria, PA–I think it’s a bank now, and if there was anything special about it, I couldn’t tell you what it was–except that we ate there every year because it was out of the suburbs and a little less than half the way home. I don’t remember actually eating there (probably a grilled cheese sandwich), or if it was really great or just average, though I’m guessing the latter–my recollection is that it was one of those half-step up from a diner deals that were pervasive before the rise of the corporate “improvement” on the model–Denny’s, and that lot, but I remember that we were always hungry, the food was always great, everyone (even my eternally angry father) was always happy, and it was the second time in a day that we ate in a restaurant. We didn’t even do that on vacation! It didn’t hurt that Aunt Jean was a wonderful, intelligent, warm and loving presence–actually my dad’s aunt, she was like an extra grandmother (right down to the socks and underwear she gave me each year for Christmas). I was happy simply to be around her, which–after a chocolate sundae–didn’t stop me from falling asleep on the way home.
Part 3 Is On the Way
This year for the Cranberry Sauce, we tinkered and went with Cranberry-Apple. Replaced the orange with all apple, and used a cup of hard cider from the East End Brewing Co. for the liquid. Also, we used all brown sugar and a heapin’ T. of ground cinnamon. Just saying. The pan in the foreground has garlic that was simmered in butter until just after it released its scent–it went into the 16lbs (not kidding) of mashed potatoes you see steaming in the right. Check out my vintage Hotpoint gas stove–put that up your Jenn Air and twirl it around a little. And yes, the kitchen cabinets are purple.
This topic is becoming a recurring them on my blog, which isn’t exactly a bad thing. Got to walk the walk if you talk the talk.
Well, that last post was serious. Time to get back to a more holiday-friendly, sillier tone. So, I ask the question: Where does Turkey come from?
Why, from pretty girls, of course.
We don’t see photos of famous actresses and beautiful models posed poised to slaughter the sacred bird in this age of heightened sensitivity–as we have in the vintage photos I’ve been posting leading up to today. Conversely, I’ve found no vintage photos of lovely daughters, wives, and girlfriends showing off their prized kills. I’m not certain what this means about our society.
Nevertheless: ‘Merika! Hell, yes.
P.S. I especially like the pink arrows in the last few pictures.
Note: All photos were found via google search “girl hunt turkey.” None of these are my property and are being shared solely for humorous intent. I don’t make a single penny from oldroadapples. If one of these is yours, let me know and I’ll take it down.
Way back in April, I followed a link to the awesome photo above, which itself had been taken from a twitter post by “Cleveland Frowns” and read through a few, mostly outraged, comments. The overall tones of the discussion were understandably angry, with a strong dose of condemnation over the general disrespect and insensitivity of America’s Caucasian mainstream for our Native brothers and sisters. The reactions varied between pity and calls for violence–if the post and comments are still available on line you can read some for yourself– as is generally the case with this discussion, which I’ve reviewed in various incarnations before. Indeed, I’ve delved into the subject before, albeit from a more dispassionate perspective here, and then followed up here–decent posts that sum up my feelings and the road I took to get to them.
In the ensuing months, my opinion hasn’t changed–a country built on the ideals that I was taught to believe in–however idealized and romanticized those ideals might be, should not condone the continued, systematic humiliation and degradation of an entire race, especially given the historic, genocidal treatment of that race by the colonizing mainstream and their “Manifest Destiny.” It’s important to remember that while Adolph Hitler and his Nazis were responsible for about 11 million non-combatant deaths (about 6 million of them Jews), the number of Native Americans killed during the period of American colonization is estimated to be as high as 80-90 million, with conservative numbers somewhere in the 50-60 million range. And that’s no laughing matter.
Thanksgiving, the holiday during which we count our blessings, is a good time to take a deep breath and remember that there aren’t a whole lot of Native folks throwing down a turkey on the table and reminiscing about the good old days. Many of us know that the Thanksgiving we learned about in school was pretty much invented during the Lincoln administration as a way to salve the divisions created by the civil war–a ploy to get folks to sit down and have a meal together and appreciate what we have. Politically, it was genius–we’re still doing it today, right? And isn’t it fun to consider that Honest Abe Lincoln is sort of the father of Black Friday?
But I digress. More accurate–and quite fascinating, historically–accounts of the first Thanksgiving are available here and here. You’ll note that the story wasn’t wildly changed from what we learned in school, but those changes were highly significant. Those colonists, far from the first that the Wampanoag had encountered, were tolerated, if not enthusiastically welcomed, despite the previous visits and depredations (disease outbreaks, skirmishes, and the abduction of Natives who were pressed into slavery among them) largely because the pilgrims had women and children in their party–and it was decided that only peaceful people would travel with their women and children. The Wampanoag held the pilgrim’s fates in their hands, and that tolerance and assistance allowed the colony to survive–but did they ever sit down and have a big, celebratory meal? Not by native accounts.
That doesn’t mean Thanksgiving isn’t a good idea, but that we should look honestly at the truths behind our holiday as presented to us, and the solemn and violent history that has elapsed over the nearly 400 between then and now. For many Native Americans, thanksgiving is considered a National Day of Mourning, and rightly so, but others look wistfully at the mythological incarnation of the holiday and less at the actual, depressing history and contemplate what the holiday can be, and what we as a people and as a nation could have been. As quoted in the article cited below, Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer said, “As a concept, a heartfelt Thanksgiving is very important to me as a person. It’s important that we give thanks. For me, it’s a state of being. You want to live in a state of thanksgiving, meaning that you use the creativity that the Creator gave you. You use your talents. You find out what those are and you cultivate them and that gives thanks in action.”
I have to admit that I rarely give thought to pilgrims on Thanksgiving–except for those little accordion-fold paper turkey figures with the pilgrim hats and collars. Love those. Like most people, I’m thinking about getting together with distant family, sitting around drinking beer, scarfing shrimp cocktail and cheese and crackers, talking whether there will be enough stuffing left over for seconds, maybe thirds (my capacity for stuffing is boundless), about apple pie, about going out to the lake to see the opening of the big Christmas Lights display, about how I wished I’d had the initiative to put up my own Christmas lights three days ago when it was warm because they’re calling for snow all week, and finally about football–and how in a short span of days–hours, really–everyone will disperse and go back to their far-flung lives, and how the holiday–any holiday that brings us together–never, ever lasts long enough.Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/11/23/what-really-happened-first-thanksgiving-wampanoag-side-tale-and-whats-done-today-145807
Make your own cranberry sauce. Do not–for the love of your petty, vengeful, god–serve your guests that jiggly canned cranberry atrocity. He will smite you, if you do. I promise.
I grew up thinking that the stuff in the can was how cranberry sauce was–a “square earth” belief if ever I’ve had one–even though I could never understand why they called it sauce even though it came out of the can as a sort of flaccid log that my grandmother sliced into rounds that looked like beets steamed for the better part of a week. Rigorous, scientific study at our research labs in the a secret underground facility in an abandoned coal mine just outside Possum Glory, PA have deduced that canned cranberry sauce is over 50% Petroleum by-product and contains significant amounts of alien DNA–the space kind, not the kind that get my conservative Christian friends all stirred into a gun-clutching tizz. Further study suggests it is made by a consortium of large corporations including Dow Chemical, British Petroleum, Halliburton and the Dole Pineapple Company–the very same people who, along with WalMart and the Pringles Potato Chip alliance, run the shadow world government.
Make it fresh. The interwebs are teaming with recipes, and here’s mine. It’s awesome.
- 1 bag of Cranberries (used to be a pound, now they sell you 12 or 14oz.)
- 1 large, juicy orange to make about cup of peeled and diced orange
- 1 large, tart baking apple–get a good one, not one of those flavorless Delicious-derived hybrid, peeled and cored and diced
- 1/2 Cup granulated white sugar + 1/2 cup brown sugar (or just 1 C white sugar)
- 1 cup apple juice, cider, or orange juice.
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- no more than 1/2 teaspoon ground clove (be careful, clove is strong and not for everyone, but it adds an exotic flair to this simple side dish).
Put the juice and a few tablespoons of water in a large saucepan, add the apple, cranberries, orange, and sugar in that order and bring to a boil on medium low heat, stirring when necessary. Cook until the berries begin to burst, then add cinnamon and clove and cook until you get a texture you like, between 10-15 minutes. The longer you cook, the smoother it becomes. I like it sort of medium lumpy.
You can fool around with this recipe as much as you’d like–we’ve made it with just apple or just orange, with and without the clove, and I even diced up a cup of seedless grapes one year in order to add bulk and to use up the grapes before leaving town for the long holiday weekend.
We generally kill a single recipe of this on the day of, but the it lends itself easily to doubling, which I make ahead and store in the fridge in mason jars with plastic storage lids so there’s a chance to have some left to eat with leftover turkey. Hint: it’s great on toast or bagels, too.
It’s actually the morning of Day 6 because, on the heels of my my vapid post ever I was too 1) Shell-shocked with shame, 2) Quietly Bemused, or 3) just distracted doing a bunch of other crap, that I didn’t the Day 5 post out. On behalf of the entire Old Road Apples staff, which is pretty much me and the geriatric dog, we beg your forgiveness and understanding.
Bad puns, anachronistic but appealing garters and hose on the pilgrim lass, and foreshadowing of the coming strife betwixt colonist and indigenous, and some Freudian imagery –I dare say this photo has it all: history, pyschology and literary instruction as well as the obvious sex appeal. God bless America and pass the sweet potatoes. Also, interestingly enough, not a turkey to be seen.
So, who is stoked for Thanksgiving? Besides me. Word has it that another of my wayward distant nephews is making the drive up from North Carolina, 9 hours each way, just to spend late afternoon and evening with us. Boo-yah. He’s has to work Wednesday and Friday, but he’s coming–and that’s a whole lot of over the river and through the woods to deal with. We’re looking at about 90% attendance, and that rocks–and while we’re down one niece and nephew, we’ve added a niece-in-law (is that a thing?).
The only thing that comes close to the excitement of seeing all these little kids who have suddenly grown into young men and women is the sight of a blunderbuss-toting, hyperopic ballerina ia a french maid outfit hunting vainly for next Thursday’s dinner. Family love is great and wonderful and all, but the right to a well-armed ballerina is one of the basic tenants of our Great Union. That and the right to run cattle on public land.
But I digress. (It’s not like you thought that I wounldn’t–digress, I mean). I recently participated, albeit somewhat tangentially, in a discussion over at coldhandboyack following the host’s blog asserting that “Thanksgiving is dead,” a depressing but well-reasoned consideration of the changes and social trends that have led to a marked diminution of the holiday from sacred family event to pre-Christmas commercial opportunity. I agree with his assertions; however, my own opinions are considerably more bitter, cynical, and nostalgic. I’m not ready to see Thanksgiving fade off into that good night, replaced by the vapid superficiality of something like Halloween. In these regards, I fully embrace a conservative stance, the irony being that pro-commerce conservatives would like nothing better, I think, than to keep nothing about Thanksgiving except for the idea of the thing, as a scaffolding upon which to hang brighter and ever-gaudier solicitations to endless heights of consumerism.
Well, fuck that. For many years our ears were pummeled politicians droning on about “family values,” despite our nation’s collective rejection of some of the most traditional and visible markers of those values. Now granted, the commercialization of Thanksgiving isn’t the same as inequities in wages, healthcare, housing, and so forth, but it’s a big glowing example of our priorities. It was pointed out over at Boyack’s page that it’s all about shopping, but that social media hasn’t helped either, what with texts and tweets and even email relieving some of the longing for contact with loved ones we once had, while providing the illusion of interaction. A tweet does not a turkey dinner make, however.
Another interesting point someone made was that Thanksgiving has had a commercial element for the better part of a century, serving as a practical gateway to Christmas, and I concur. I’ll be writing in a few weeks about my family’s Christmas traditions and youthful memories, one of which was a trip to the “big city” where they had this wonderful place called a mall, an indoor sort of main street in which we could take off our coats and cross folks off our Christmas lists in perfect, 72 degree comfort. Black Friday, the commenter observed, isn’t about buying thoughtful gifts for others, it has become about scoring awesome cool crap for bargain prices for ourselves.
Now, I’m not a religious man by any stretch of the word. When I step into a church the paint peels off the walls and my shoes leave smoking footprrints on the carpet, but I know sins, and what we’ve done with Thanksgiving is a sin. Indeed, I’d argue that it is three–envy, greed, and gluttony. Not to mention the complete and total abandonment of any semblance of pride. Look at the photo above: I would never, ever, run for the opportunity to save a little money on crap I don’t need. It’s grotesque, there’s nothing else to say.
There is no reason why a holiday like Thanksgiving should dissolve–although many people instill it with religious overtones, the seeds of the season are cooperation (however exaggerated), perseverance, gratitude for what we have, and ultimately the establishment of our nascent country. No one who lives here, or loves the USA and it’s promise, has any excuse not to embrace it. Even indiginous, Native Americans could make a case for honoring the generosity and benevolence of their ancestors.
I would go futher in arguing that we MUST struggle to reclaim the simple, supposedly archaic values reflected in ths stodgy old chestnut of a holiday as a starting place from reclaiming the essence of what we can be. Melodramtic? Sure it is. That doesn’t make it bad. Now to do this, we need more than silly photos of our grandmothers’ generation posing in underwear with poultry, and I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.