Once again Thanksgiving is upon us. Although I no longer pay much attention to it, Thanksgiving was a big part of my childhood. Every year my teachers would tell me about how the Pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving dinner, to which they invited their Indian friends, who had helped them survive their first year in North America. Somehow my teachers always neglected to mention that 64 years later the Pilgrims fought a genocidal war against their Indian friends. I suppose they were afraid that might take some of the fun out of the holiday. My teachers struggled mightily to make the Pilgrims seem interesting, but somehow the impression they gave was that the Pilgrims were just a bunch of people who wore dorky clothes and carried funny-looking firearms. Oh, and they liked to eat turkey! My teachers were hamstrung by the fact that they didn’t want to talk about 1) the Pilgrims’ ingratitude toward their Indian friends, and 2) the Pilgrims espoused a virulent form of Calvinism that most modern Americans would find repugnant. For example, it would be awkward for a teacher to have to explain to Catholic children that their Pilgrim forefathers believed that the Pope is the “Anti-Christ”.
My teachers only had one story to tell about the Pilgrims, which they told over and over again. It went like this: John Alden has a crush on Priscilla Mullins, but he can’t bring himself to approach her. One day, John’s commanding officer, Miles Standish, tells him to go to Priscilla and convey his own request for her hand in marriage. Being a spineless chump, John does this. Priscilla responds by saying, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” That’s it. That’s the story. Pretty exciting, eh? I’m told that Longfellow made an epic poem out of this. It must have been a slow week for him.
My family celebrated Thanksgiving every year, despite it being politically problematic. Since my parents were atheists, it wasn’t clear to me whom we were thanking, or even what we should be thankful for. It eventually became apparent to me that the holiday was just an excuse to eat turkey and stuffing – and watch football in the middle of the week. In a funny way, though, Thanksgiving did teach me something about life. When I was a child, nothing appeared to me to be more mouth-watering than a big, fat turkey hot out of the oven. I would have a feeling of eager anticipation as my father would carve it. My heart would beat faster as he put big slices of white breast meat on plate. I would eagerly thrust a large piece in my mouth. I would then be perplexed to find myself chewing on something dry and tasteless. What I learned here is that appearances can be deceiving, and don’t believe the hype.
I found that by covering the white meat with gravy or stuffing or mashed potatoes – or a combination of the three – I could make it edible. (Another lesson: be resourceful.) I eventually figured out that the good meat is the dark meat (legs, thighs, wings). As Louis Prima once put it, “The closer to the bone, the sweeter is the meat.” Although I don’t think he was talking about turkeys.