Let’s talk turkey. The real kind, that is. Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, and many of us wonder why. Why does a turkey take center stage?
We had Austrian neighbors years ago. They wanted to do the American holiday up right, so they asked my husband, the cook in the family, to help them prepare a Thanksgiving feast. He spent much of that holiday over at their house, putting the turkey in the oven, checking on it throughout the day until it was done. He was quite proud of himself. They were impressed with his technique.
It wasn’t until the next day that we got the verdict.
“That is a very boring bird,” Anthony, the Austrian, said.
I couldn’t have agreed more.
But Thanksgiving isn’t really all about the boring turkey, of course. There are other holiday hazards. Other varieties of Thanksgiving turkeys.
The kids’ table, for instance. Yet another holiday staple. Talk about boring. I come from a very small family in Upstate New York—one grandmother, two parents, one brother, one aunt and uncle, and a couple of cousins. But we still had a kids’ table every Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house up the road.
It was a small card table set off to the side, and three of us were banished to it. A cousin. My brother. And me. We all hated it, but maybe I hated it the most. Always the extrovert, I wanted to know what was going on at the “big” table of adults. And surely they wanted to know what my thoughts were on any number of topics, too. How could they not?
But years passed, decades it seemed, before I made my way across the room to the ladder-back chairs. Talk about disappointment. It was like finding out about Santa. Maybe worse. Much of the “adult” conversation revolved around neighbors, what they were up to, and since we were a family of apple growers, what new equipment they had bought that fall for their orchards.
And if it was an election year, the conversation would revolve around how happy everyone was, or wasn’t, about the winner. I didn’t meet a Democrat until I went to college, so you can imagine how the Kennedy victory went over at the Wilsons’ holiday table one Thanksgiving 60 years ago. End-of-world talk.
I was in elementary school when I finally made the table transfer. I soon realized that the grown-ups didn’t want to know my thoughts on any topic, let alone on an election. I quickly learned to keep my opinions to myself.
Over the years I have often thought of my kids’ table experience. This year I fear I may be returning to a 2020 version of it, thanks to the pandemic. We are going to a neighbor’s house where only three of us, maybe four, will sit around a small table out in her garden. Rain or shine. I already know how I will feel. Surely there must be a big table of adults nearby, just begging to hear my views.
But one of my Thanksgiving traditions will help. Years ago, and I don’t know where or why, I came upon a “turkey” I have put on my holiday table as a centerpiece ever since. It never fails to entertain, and is impossible to ignore and not comment on.
I mean, how many times have you seen a pineapple turkey? As I say, I don’t know where, but years ago I found a bright orange felt turkey “head,” complete with eyes and a beak. It only needed a body. So the key is to wander the fresh fruit aisle of the supermarket the week before Thanksgiving in search of a plump pineapple. But more important, a plump one with a robust top, a top that could mimic bushy turkey tail feathers when the pineapple is laid on its side.
Put the orange turkey head on the front of the reclined pineapple, and there you have it: your Thanksgiving turkey centerpiece. Also a masterpiece.
One year a guest was so obsessed with my turkey that it was all she could talk about. She’d never seen anything like it. She even asked if she could have the orange head. I was quite taken aback. It was like asking for my firstborn child. I told her she could not, that it was already “willed” to a member of the family. Forget about the paintings in the living room. The turkey head is the most desired inheritance in my house.
The pineapple turkey will be going down the street to the tiny kids’ table in the garden. At least one thing will be the same this year. Pineapple turkeys still rule. Pandemic be damned.
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