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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving 1996

   
     I awaken with a simple desire: to pick up where I left off in Final Fantasy III. I am finally getting around to playing the game, two years after its initial release, in the fallow period before I get my Nintendo 64 for Christmas. I am borrowing my friend's copy, as well as a gargantuan strategy guide he has downloaded from the primordial internet that is approximately the size of the FBI's file on the John F. Kennedy assassination. These few late autumn days off from school give me the precious time I need to take on this adventure that some say lasts upwards of a hundred hours. I have spent the last several wandering back and forth through a small patch of forest fighting dinosaurs.
     I'm still adjusting to my environment. Just a few months ago, my family moved on up from our mobile home of ten years to a two-story townhouse on the other side of the city. Though I'm still rather annoyed that we never went back to retrieve the rest of my belongings as promised (R.I.P. Teddy Ruxpin and Grubby), we did snag the important stuff, and I no longer have to remain on the same floor as my parents. A fair trade, I suppose.
     From downstairs, the orchestral refrain of the Fox Sports anthem announces the commencement of the several hours of jabbering that precedes the holiday football games. It is accompanied by other traditional Thanksgiving noises: the clink of ice in a glass, the fizzy gurgle as Captain Morgan and Coca-Cola join it within the vessel, the murmured obscenities from the kitchen that will crescendo into a roar by the afternoon. I turn up the volume on my bulky black tube television, neon green dots on the screen expanding into bars as the score of FFIII swells. I make sure to keep it within reason; my mother hates video game music, and I'd like to avoid unnecessary confrontation today.
     The morning passes as planned, with a minimum of contact with my family (it's a rookie mistake not to pace oneself in terms of exposure on the holidays). The Chiefs and Lions game is well underway when the hunger pangs begin a'pangin'. The roasting turkey's succulent aroma has begun wafting into my quarters, and I can resist its siren smell no longer. Reluctantly, I tear my admittedly weary eyes away from the television to head to the kitchen. It's time to indulge in the traditional Thanksgiving snacks.
     I don't know when or how it started, but the selection of pre-dinner Thanksgiving treats in the Marsilio household has long been set in stone. As I approach the kitchen table, I see the goofy serving dish we've been using for years, a plastic blue flower with each petal a separate section containing a different food item. I smile, knowing the culinary joys enplated therein. The menu, as it were, consists of the following:

-Deviled eggs. These hard-boiled, silky smooth delights, their creamy yolks accentuated by a hint of smoky paprika, are ironically simply heavenly.
-Celery sticks, with their green ravine filled to the brim with Kraft Bacon & Cheddar spread. The celery is merely a vessel, as is often celery's lot in life, to showcase the incomparable spread. Were I only to know that it would be discontinued years later, replaced by inferior spreads like the Handi-Snacks-esque Pub Cheese, I would relish the moment and consume even more. On the plus side, the lack of this future sight is likely sparing me some future gastrointestinal distress.
-Black olives. Just black olives, straight from the can, onto the dish, and into my mouth.
-Two items in separate sections meant to be enjoyed together: Saltine crackers and smoked baby clams that had been packed with cottonseed oil in a tin. The technique here is to pile as many clams on a Saltine as possible, add a dash of Tabasco sauce on top, and savor the flavor of Poseidon's own barbecue. The only thing greater than the taste is the degree of difficulty involved in not dripping a viscous oil/Tabasco mixture on the other foods at the table. In the years to come, as my sister would embrace veganism as a lifestyle, my father would taunt her by eating these slowly in front of her, while gleefully inquiring how upset she was that he was consuming "smoked babies" in front of her. This bit would be about as well-received as one would expect.
-Beside the bottle of Tabasco, a separate bowl contains a heaping selection of nuts, including filberts, almonds and Brazil nuts, which my relatives refer to by a name containing a horrific racial slur. I always enjoy them, but having to hand-crack each one grows tiresome, and after a while I just go back for more deviled eggs and clams.

     Having been provided adequate sustenance by the White Trash Classics tasting menu, I return to my room to sit on my ass and continue my epic virtual journey. Yet within minutes, the turkey's tantalizing fragrance bamboozles me into thinking that I'm famished. I shake off the poultry hypnosis and try to focus on my game. There are still more dinosaurs to kill, and one of them surely must have the item my adventurers have been fruitlessly hunting for.
     A sudden commotion downstairs indicates that my father either burned himself, cut himself, or that the team that won the football game didn't cover the spread. I don't let it distract me.
     As evening creeps closer, the clatter of pots and pans rises above the cloud of boozy profanity and fragrant meat bouquet emanating from downstairs. The finishing touches are being put on dinner, and I can hardly wait to gorge myself upon the feast that is to come. I turn off the television, rub my dry, tired eyes, and head into the maelstrom below.
     The golden roasted turkey carcass greets me with an almost certainly imagined smile as I descend the staircase. My father is removing the last bits of stuffing from inside the bird with a large wooden spoon and plopping them into some sort of amber dishware. He complains that it is likely undercooked and that we're welcome to eat it if we want, but we may die of salmonella. I'm not terribly concerned; I've been conditioned by now to expect an unending stream of self-deprecations from the architect of this dinner, each in search of a refutation and effusive praise. I will prudently ration those out through the course of the meal.
     A din of dishes hitting dishes, of silverware tinkling against other utensils, of paper towels getting ripped and tumblers getting accidentally knocked over all falls away when I lay my eyes upon what my mother is removing from the refrigerator. A giant but unassuming Tupperware bowl, schoolbus yellow and covered in barely-clinging plastic wrap, joins the assembling feast. Within is the greatest treasure of Thanksgiving, a decadent jewel that smells of the sea and tastes of enchanted kingdoms. The crab salad.
     To the layman, the crab salad looks like a milky, briny slop. But one bite is enough to convince the disbeliever of its deceptive charms. A slaw containing iceberg lettuce, shredded crab and enough mayo to choke a horse, it is the holy grail of my Thanksgiving meal. Rest assured, I partake of the turkey and all the other assorted goodies, but the crab salad is the alpha and the omega of the holiday, the dish that I look forward to the most and that, when all is said and done, I feel like I cannot eat again until a year has passed. Some may think it best eaten on crackers or toast, but I just eat it with a fork. By the time Thanksgiving dinner has concluded, I have eaten three bowls. A simple tally shows my Cool Hand Luke-level egg consumption to be worrisome.
     The family serves ourselves at the counter, plucking selections from the platter of carved turkey, the pot of mashed potatoes, the warm, buttery biscuits, the cranberry sauce that still has hints of embedded lines from the can if you know just where to look. My mother, father, sister and I all sit down at the table, a cramped glass disk atop a white wicker base, and offer a half-assed prayer. Then my father points out that there are two gravy options, one made traditionally from the turkey drippings, and one from a seasoning packet. Despite my father's assertions that his hand-made gravy is "inedible," I both eat and enjoy it, making sure to note that he did a good job and that it is indeed tastier than the powder-based option. I am again informed that I should probably not eat the stuffing, but I have a perhaps naive amount of trust in the old man's drunken cooking skills. My faith is rewarded with a delicious, moist dish and a living streak that continues for decades to come.
     For the grand finale, I cut myself an excessively large slice of pumpkin pie. It's still chilled from the fridge, just how I like it, and I pass on the option to spray real aerosol whipped cream on top in favor of shoveling several dollops of Cool Whip atop its custardy crown. With each bite, I am positive that I absolutely cannot possibly take another. And then I take one more.
     When the feast is finished and the dirty dishes left lurking in the sink, awaiting the next morning's laborious cleaning, I crawl upstairs, lying in bed as the meal slowly begins to break down. Home Alone is on TV, so I shift to lie on my side and watch it, half-focused in the onset of food coma and lamenting that the line "I'll rip off your cojones and boil them in motor oil" is sanitized for broadcast to an awkwardly dubbed "I'll boil ya in motor oil!" My Thanksgiving meal is consumed, and though there will be turkey sandwiches and soup cobbled together from leftovers in the days to follow, the Christmas season is now upon me. I drift into blissful, bloated reverie as I rest up for the day ahead. After all, there is still so much adventuring to do.


Speaking of leftovers, please enjoy some copied, pasted and minimally altered text from a previous Thanksgiving blog! I hope you and yours have a happy Thanksgiving and find some time to just relax and enjoy the season. If you're bored, you can always read my other seasonally-appropriate articles about a book of Thanksgiving poems illustrated by the guy that did Scary Stories to Tell in the Darka book of Thanksgiving stories from the early 20th century and Trader Joe's turkey lunchmeat. And read my book, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior! It's a cornucopia of shameless plugs!





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