Food has traditionally been the center of the Thanksgiving festivities. And it’s all traditional food – traditional in the sense of the pilgrims sitting around eating turkey and dumplings. No doubt we’ve added our own modern favorites to the list, and they’ve become traditional as well. But overall, I’ve always been a bit suspicious of foods tied to holidays. Who made the food rules?
Truthfully, if there were no turkey, potatoes, dressing, and all the fixins, I’d probably pour a bowl of Honeycomb cereal, top it with sliced banana, grab some toast slathered with apricot jam and be just as happy as I would slobbering over a turkey leg. Seriously! I like cold cereal – always have! Yeah, holiday food is fantastico, but I’m not bound to it. And cold cereal is All-American, so by rights it should be considered as a holiday tradition.
I’m reminded of the time Birdie Hicks (mom) decided it was time to lay down the law in the Hicks house. Her young brood was breaking the bank with all the out-of-control eating going on. You would’ve thought she would hide the case of canned shrimp, wheatgerm, or the SPAM she always had stored in the pantry – that expensive crap nobody ate. But no; she zeroed in on the cold cereal.
“One bowl of cereal is all you kids get from now on! And I’ll be watching, so don’t think you can sneak more,” she announced one day, using her sternest voice. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we were conditioned to step in line when we heard that stern voice; we knew what was good for us.
All was relatively peaceful and quiet around the house until the next Sunday morning – the morning that would go down in infamy. My brother Mikey, the outlier in the group, went for broke that morning. He grabbed mom’s giant mixing bowl, poured in a box of cereal, added a quart of milk, a few cups of sugar, and started eating.
The rest of us sat back with our meager portions and waited for the fireworks. Mom stepped into the room and saw her oldest kid downing cereal from a bowl half his size. She stood in shock for almost a full minute, her hands clenching and unclenching. A guttural sound emitted from her throat much like the sound of a lion about to attack its prey. Her face contorted into something akin to those angry orcs J.R.R. Tolkien described as fighting for the evil Sauron. She was mad!
I could never understand my brother’s direct approach to fighting city hall. I loved my cold cereal, but I wasn’t willing to die on a hill of Fruit Loops. Anyway, to this day I love cold cereal and am happy to eat it whenever I get the chance – sometimes in honor of Mikey, who defied mom that Sunday morning and lived to tell the story.
But you know, as we discuss the topic of Thanksgiving food, what if we broiled some beef tenderloin rather than turkey for our Thanksgiving feasts? I’d even take a beef sirloin cooked medium rare over turkey breast. Throw some butter-basted giant shrimp in there and call it a meal!
Years ago, Doris Hicks (grandma) assigned herself carrot pudding with rum sauce for all of our family Thanksgiving feasts. “This rum sauce ain’t got none of that extract in it!” she proudly announced every year. “I use real rum; come on over here and give it a taste. It’s good!”
She was right. It was better than good; it was delectable. And if you were lucky, you got two helpings. Often grandma staggered to the Thanksgiving table with the smell of rum heavy on her breath. But we were polite and just helped her sit down and load her plate. And we thanked her for her skills cooking her famous rum sauce.
In 1971, mom made mincemeat pie as a side dish for our Thanksgiving feast. She used the venison from one of the deer that dad shot. I remember that year well; it’s the moment in time I swore I would never put mincemeat in my mouth again. And I haven’t; I’m true to myself that way. It was food hell I swore I would never repeat. But interestingly, I can still remember the taste – much like the grime that collects on your teeth from the dust kicked-up shoveling cow crap out of an old milk barn. Mom was an excellent cook, so no slam against her cooking. The recipe was someone’s ancient family secret that got passed down through her chain of friends. It should’ve been buried and forgotten.
A few times over the years, I’ve gone to the all-you-can-eat restaurants for Thanksgiving feast. It’s not bad, but we all know buffets are all about quantity rather than quality. But the truck loads of it stacked on neatly decorated carts assuage everyone’s better judgement, so nobody complains.
And if something tastes bad at the buffet, you can simply push it aside and not eat it. That’s something you wouldn’t dare do at the family feast, especially if it was Aunt Gloria’s sweet potato delight. You know what I’m talking about. It’s the pan of cooked yams with the consistency and appearance of fresh baby crap right out of the diaper. And unlike the buffet chef, Aunt Gloria expects a compliment. “Wasn’t my sweet potato casserole so good?” she asks. “Yes, Aunty, you outdo yourself every year!”
One year when I was in my teens, my cousin Rick invited me to Wally’s Café the Sunday following Thanksgiving. I had the choice of going with Rick or going to Sunday School class – it was an easy decision. “We’ve got a ton of food left over from last week’s festivities,” he said. “And I’m hungry; how ‘bout you?” “I’m famished!” I said. “The only thing I’ve had all day is a single bowl of cold cereal that my mom rationed out! Let’s go.”
Wally’s was closed, so we had the whole café to ourselves. In those days, I could eat my weight in food in one sitting. Granted, I was only 130 pounds fully clothed! But man was Uncle Ralph’s cooking scrumptious; no question he was the best cook in the whole state of Idaho! And the nice thing about dining with Rick, when there was good food to eat, there was no chatting and visiting; it was strictly business. Rick took the act of eating to a higher level. Worked for me! A flatbed-sized load of scrumptious leftover food disappeared in silence that Sunday.
So here’s a question that needs to be asked. Have you ever sat down to Thanksgiving feast and the most delectable thing on the table are the rolls? I’ve experienced that many times. I honor and respect those whose skills include proper bread baking – especially when it comes to rolls.
One year, after gobbling over a dozen scrumptious rolls, I asked, “Who made these rolls? They’re fantastic!” Someone replied, “These are Rhodes rolls.” Well, it just so happened there was a pimply-faced teen-aged kid there whose name was Rhodes. He was sitting across the table from me gnawing on a turkey leg. “Gee, Rhodes, you’re an expert baker. You should go into business!” I said. He had no idea what I was talking about. Not long after, for the first time, I noticed his famous rolls in the grocery store.
I’ve always pitied those high school wrestlers during Thanksgiving festivities – you know, those poor saps who are cutting weight while everyone else is gaining weight. I could never understand the level of dedication some had to skip meals in order to make weight. As I recall, they allowed an extra pound or two during weigh-in over Thanksgiving. But that was never enough for me– I carried two or three pounds extra in the consumption of Rhodes Rolls alone! It was like, “Hicks, you’re wrestling 126 tonight.” “No coach, I’m jumping up to 155 for this match!”
Desserts are arguably the most popular course during Thanksgiving feasts. One year, mom made 21 pies of various types. Days before, our house had the aroma of baking pies. It was like a factory – cherry, apple, pecan, pumpkin – but thankfully no mincemeat!
There were a hundred or so relatives sharing the feast with us that year. After lunch, people were laying all over the house in various stages of slumber; all because they ate themselves into unconscious oblivion. It happens – you’ve seen it! But as soon as mom announced it was time for pie, folks suddenly came alive.
Mom had all her pies stored in the backroom pantry. She trotted back there to bring her prized bakes into the kitchen. When she opened the door, the pies were nowhere to be seen; the shelves were empty! She came stomping back into the kitchen with a horrified look. “Okay, who took my pies?!” she yelled. Nobody seemed to know.
I said, “Mom, how did you lose 21 pies? All these people came to eat your famous pies. You may have a riot on your hands!” I got the same look she gave “mixing bowl Mikey” years before.
I enjoyed teasing mom, especially by making 21 of her famous pies disappear. But mom had a threshold. She could take teasing, but push her over that threshold and you’d have a raving mad-woman on your hands. For my own health, I was one kid in the family who knew when to back off. So, I found her pies where I had hid them earlier. There were folks in that crowd who valued their pie more than my life. Seeing their Thanksgiving dessert appear brought balance back to their existences.
I look back fondly on those years growing up in Idaho. My mind is full of cherished memories of the good ole days. And those memories are priceless.
Friends who somehow landed on this post and waded through all the verbiage to make it to this point – thanks for reading! I hope you’ve had some of your own fond Thanksgiving memories flood your mind. Happy Thanksgiving!
I’ve always believed our relationships are the essence of our existence. All of you, my friends and family, are who I’m most thankful for this year. I love you all!
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