Friday, December 25, 2009
Merry Christmas to All and To All A Good Fight!
I’ve been sitting on this column for a week. How could I, a person so in love with the season of Yule that in July I declare an arbitrary Christmas and crank the AC so I can build a fire, drink cocoa, and watch The Bishop’s Wife, have nothing to say about December 25? How could I not have one bon mot, one poignant tribute, or one slightly off color linguistic wink? Let me think a minute……nope. Nothing.
This morning I got out of bed, opened presents, "Oooohed" and "Ahhhhed" over the falling snow, drank a little eggnog, and even hummed along to some carols. I did it all perfectly according the directions on the box. Yet something was missing. I took a short inventory: Merriment? Check. Goodwill? Check. Visions of Sugar Plums? Sure, why not. Then it came to me. I knew the seasonal malaise from which I suffered. No meat. Christmas is, after all, about the meat.
Of course, I know the real reason for the season, but I’m not going to presume that I can serve that subject better than Matthew or Luke. I, like Linus, think that Luke 2:1-20 is particularly good stuff. I’m talking about the post midnight mass, secular, destroy your credit rating, I only screamed at you because I have a sugar buzz, meaning of Christmas. In my Yule days of yore, Christmas was divided into a three round clash of the titans. It was a different kind of Boxing Day with the opponents being The Champ, otherwise known as Daddy, and his annual contender, that fowl upstart, the turkey. I like to think my mom was Don King with slightly calmer hair even though I have no idea what Don King actually did.
I married a vegetarian. Gentle therapy and a modest drinking habit have helped me deal with it and usually we make it work. Holiday meals are the only occasions where there is a hint of marital strife. This is America after all, and the focal point of each major holiday is a big hunk of meat. There are turkey people and goose types. There’s even room for duck people on this carnally inclusive holiday. Occasionally, Cornish Hens all around are acceptable, though they’ve always seemed a bit prissy to me. Some people go the spiral ham route, and a few go slightly off the grid and roast a Prime Rib. The turducken is brilliant for the indecisive. Why have one meat when you can have three? But saints preserve us! How do you celebrate a feast day with a tofurkey!
For the uninitiated, a tofurkey is shaped like the meat loaf it wishes it were. Into it is rolled, not stuffed, a dressing that’s not sure if it wants to smell like sage or cardboard. It threatens to taste like turkey, but don’t be scared. It doesn’t. Tofurky comes in a box. It was never predator or prey. It never roamed, flew, swam, or scampered, which I suppose is the moral argument for eating it in the first place. Nonsense! This is Christmas. It’s no time for morals. A tofurkey lays there passive presenting no challenge, and what’s fun about that? I humored Graham and bought a tofurkey at Thanksgiving, but today I couldn't help but be a bit wistful thinking about that test of wills between man and beast that in the past we called Christmas dinner.
Round one: Christmas morning after presents, Daddy collides with the turkey, oiling and salting the skin, stuffing its middle with raisin dressing made from the recipe Grandpa brought from the “old country.” “Get in there you potlicker! Get in there or you’ll be sorry!” he roars as the bird slides around the counter trying to make a quick getaway, wings and legs akimbo. Two things I’ve always wondered: What is a potlicker? And how much sorrier can a dead turkey with no head be? The oven rings, sounding the bell to end the round. Conquered, the turkey enters the dry heat of defeat. Its goose is cooked.
“Carol, you’d need a search warrant to find a sharp knife in this place.”
“I sharpened the one you're holding Al.”
“On what, your teeth?”
“It’s as sharp as your tongue mister.”
“Like hell it is.”
It’s true. We have every kind of sharpening tool in our house but no edgy blades.
“Son of a… Judas Priest!”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Hang on to the…dammit!”
“Ahh, hell. Well, that’s your piece.”
For years I thought the “dammit” was part of the bird like the drumstick or the wishbone.
“Boy oh boy, a lot of help you are.”
“I’ll give you temper, temper.”
“It might be better than the turkey.”
“You’ll get out of my way if you know what’s good for you.”
“Merry Christmas to you too!”
And then…quiet. As suddenly as it was thrown on, the mantle of Bunker was thrown off again, and Mom and Daddy emerged with a tray of expertly sliced white and dark meat. According to my father, the white meat was for Dumb Americans. It didn't matter that he had been born here and fought in two wars for the Dumb American side. Anytime his opinion was in the minority it was Daddy against the Dumb Americans. He acted as if he were some wild expatriate just off foreign shores sporting a geographically vague dialect, a jaunty cap, and a cigarette between his teeth.
My parents would sit on either end of the table. The youngest child present would say the prayer and we’d make a toast. Daddy, the champ at least until New Years dinner, lifted his champagne glass and with “Na Zdorov’ye!” we knew the meal could begin. I think what I really miss this year is that table of people. I’d gladly eat tofurkey if I could only sit around that table one more time. We weren’t the Waltons or the Bradys. We were the Klosters, slightly odd but not quite kooky, a little less than normal but not all the way to weird. We laughed until we cried at jokes only we got, teased and taunted until someone got mad and we laughed some more, talked tough and tough loved all through the year, but especially at Christmas. It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfectly wonderful.