It's time for my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving, or, as it's come to be known in recent years, Black Friday Eve.
But this isn't a diatribe on our obsession with shopping. Thanksgiving, for me, is still about the 3 F's: family, food and football. Just the way the pilgrims envisioned it. (And please don't get me started about how all the things we were taught about Thanksgiving are wrong. Let's just accept the standard-issue elementary school version with the horns of plenty and Squanto and how everybody got along great and ate and sang and lived happily ever after.)
I don't know why we don't eat turkey all year long. Legs are the best, the tastiest part of the turkey, and it's impossible to not look cool eating one. For some reason, they're relatively easy to obtain, even when the whole family shows up. And there's no wrong way to cook a turkey. We are lucky enough to have friends who let us use their state-of-the-art deep-pitting facility, and it's hard to imagine a better way to go, but if you've ever had a deep-fried turkey, you know that they're well worth all the scalded arms and faces that make them possible. Best of all, if you have any rednecks in your family, even the turkey necks and gizzards get eaten. There are three keys to redneck Thanksgiving: beer, turkey necks and lots of cousins.
Another traditional Thanksgiving foodstuff is sweet potatoes, and my wife will make a giant bowl of them. So will my mom, my mother-in-law, and every other holiday traditionalist. And it has to stop. Sweet potatoes are nasty. They smell bad, and they taste bad. They even look gross. If you'd never seen or heard of a sweet potato, and you found one in your driveway, you'd scoop it up with a shovel and throw it in the trash. Then you'd hose off the shovel.
And don't call them "yams," because they're not. They're not even from the same family of plants. The sad truth is that so many people called the orange variety of sweet potatoes yams that the USDA just went along with it rather than explain the difference. It's like calling Koalas "bears" or Taylor Swift songs "music."
My wife told me decades ago that I didn't like them because I'd never tried them "her way." And therein lies the truth about sweet potatoes. Her recipe, near as I can tell, calls for one sweet potato, 16 sticks of butter, 25 pounds of brown sugar and a hefty bag full of marshmallows. You could easily replace the sweet potato with mud or an old phone book, and it would taste just as good.
My family is loaded with people who can really bake, so desserts are readily available, including pumpkin pie, which is further proof that with enough sugar, butter and whipped cream, you can make a passable desert from an otherwise useless gourd. My favorite dessert every Thanksgiving is whatever you call it when you take leftover pie crust, throw in a bunch of cinnamon and bake it. It's a staple in any kitchen, where women still make pie crusts from scratch. I know that might sound sexist, but I've never known a dude who can make pie as well as women can. (Don't feel bad, guys: We still have parallel parking.)
Pie-making seems to be handed down from generation to generation, and the quality appears to be waning. Don't believe me? Check out the apple pie contest at the fair next year, and see who takes home first prize: blue hair equals blue ribbons. My mom makes unbelievable pies. My wife makes excellent pies. My daughter can get you the address for Happy Jack's on her iPad in 10 seconds. So it goes.
Feeling sleepy after all that food? It's trendy to blame the tryptophan in the turkey. But the real reason for our post-meal narcolepsy has nothing to do with what we ate: The culprit for our heavy eyelids is the NFL, which, in its infinite wisdom, has chosen to feature the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions matchups every Thanksgiving. Maybe by putting on really bad football teams, the NFL is trying telling us to pay more attention to our families. No amount of tryptophan can compete with failing to convert on third downs. Mystery solved.
But the real essence of Thanksgiving isn't football, or even food. Once upon a time, it meant that the grownups played cards and talked while the kids all went outside and played freeze tag, kick the can or hide and seek. The old folks fell asleep in the living room. I honestly don't remember much about food from childhood Thanksgivings, and I don't remember any of the football highlights, but I sure remember running around my grandparents' yard with all my cousins.
Nowadays, technology and rampant consumerism have killed off nearly all of what made Thanksgiving so great. The chatter over dinner is about what stores are having the best sales and in what order they should be attended. As soon as the dishes are loaded into the dishwasher, the ladies (and even some of the men), gather their coupons, load up on caffeine, and head off into the night in search of low-priced junk.
Rather than playing outside, the kids sit indoors like zombies, their pasty, emotionless faces lit by the glow of cellphones and iPads. When my cousins and I came in from our games, we were sweaty, and our cheeks were bright red, like we just jumped out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
But all the hum-bugging in the world won't stop my wife and daughter from heading out with all the other lunatics to go shopping around 9. I'll probably hang out with my grandson. We'll split a piece of whatever kind of pie I steal.