I’m all up in Thanksgiving. Despite my somewhat cynical public persona, we’re all about giving and caring at our house.
We are very much aware how fortunate we are to have a warm house and an abundance of food on this very special day.
I like to honor my forefathers by cooking a suitable Thanksgiving feast. Well, actually, it was my foremothers who did the cooking because my forefathers, like most of the men in my family, were inveterate gamblers who bet on just about everything, especially football games.
So, the men would gather in the den (while the women cooked) and drink, smoke, and watch football games.
That doesn’t work nowadays, because, as many regular readers know, Karen is incapable of cooking anything edible.
Once, early in our marriage, she insisted on cooking a holiday dinner. All of us, including her family, sat around with a foreboding sense of dread. Many of us drank heavily, even the children.
When she cheerfully announced it was ready — “Come and get it!” — we shuffled slowly to the table as if we were going to receive our last rites. We took turns hugging each other, the painful glances acknowledging it could well be the final goodbye.
It was like musical chairs, with each of us hoping they would be stuck without a place at the table and thus wouldn’t have to eat.
I wept openly and freely, not only because I was going to have to ingest whatever terrible thing festered in the pot like an open wound, but because the Bears were down 13 points.
Oh, and we “got it” good if you catch my drift, for about a week.
I still shudder at the thought of that meal. Instead of debating what was the best part, we argued over what was the least offensive dish. (I voted for the cranberry sauce because it came directly out of the can.) The marshmallows were a close second. The brown crud with the glop on top didn’t make the final cut.
My Uncle Tom was my idol. He had season tickets to the Giants and he was a passionate football fan who bet a lot of dough on the Thanksgiving games. He would insist that we put a TV in the dining room and leave the games on while we ate. If things didn’t go his way, he would scream obscenities with his mouth full of giblet gravy. Once he threw a drumstick at Yale Lary, the punter for the Detroit Lions.
Here are the critical times to remember on Thanksgiving Day: 12:30, 4:30, and 8:30. Those are when the three NFL games begin. I arrange it so I can watch all three games by serving breakfast in the morning, a light lunch at noon, and dinner at 7:30.
Granted, 7:30 is a little late for dinner for the younger set. My little nephew Bean, who is as cute as, well, a little bean, pointed that out to me last year at his mother’s prodding. “Uncle Rick, I’m really, really hungry and I’ve been waiting all year for this very special feast. I have an eating disorder and I should receive my nourishment right about now or my blood sugar will go off the charts.” I just looked down at that angelic little face and I must say my heart nearly melted.
“Tough crap, you spoiled little brat. Have a bologna sandwich and go to bed,” I said tenderly. Bean cried himself to sleep that night, but one day soon he’ll be with the other males in the family watching the games, and then he’ll be crying for another reason: The Bears didn’t cover the spread and we all just lost our rent money.
Every year we argue about what to serve on Thanksgiving. Most of my in-laws don’t like turkey. Every year I get their hopes up. “Well, should we try something different?” I ask. “How about fresh ham?” “How about roast lamb?” “How about osso buco?” I act like I’m deliberating for a couple minutes and then I answer: “No, no, and no. We’re having turkey.”
Like I said, Thanksgiving is a day of feasting, a day to be with loved ones, and a day to enjoy life. In other words, it is a day to eat turkey and watch football — whether you like it or not.
Rick Murphy is a seven-time winner of the New York Press Association Best Column award as well as the winner of first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Suburban Newspaper Association of America and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.