The 4th Thursday of November is definitely the bestest holiday, filled with four of the five F’s: Food, Family, Friends and Football.
I most fondly remember the Thanksgivings of yesteryear; the big old family reunions which I looked forward to — until about five seconds after I hit the driveway, when all the reasons why I left home come flooding back to me. That, 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.
These were potluck occasions, with every family responsible for schlepping their version 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.
I wish I were making this up. I had no idea there were thirteen different types of edible beans, and either way, 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 thirteen types of edible beans. “Crack a window, Billy.” Candle flames turning blue all over the house. “Methane is our friend.”
Dinner is typically delayed because my mother’s sister is late, and the four assembled families who last ate at breakfast are taunted by the perfume of a roasting turkey, making us 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 Pyrex dish with tinfoil on top, the international symbol for normal food, I believe. But no, it’s a culinary ambush. She lifts the foil and this stench shoots straight up. Ceiling tiles curl at the edges. Three rooms away watching football, grown men ask, “the hell was that?” Children begin crying uncontrollably, “Daddy, I’m scared.”
Under that foil was a greasy grey mass that appeared to be boiling, but is nowhere near any apparent heat source, with 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.” “Okay, 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 who frequently tells jokes. Out loud. On stage. In front of people. Ideally. Catch an example Thanksgiving Week all over the Milwaukee area — The Safe House on November 23, 24 & 28 (414.271.2007), Paolo’s on Nov. 26, (414.727.9332), and the Railroad Station in Saukville (262.284.3990) on Nov. 27.
Original photo, of a nice normal Thanksgiving scene, can be found here in its original form.