He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.--Rafael Sabatini
Monday, November 19, 2012
Decorating My Thanksgiving Tree
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There’s just nothing about it I don’t like. Decorating the festive Thanksgiving tree with human scalps, what a marvelous tradition! In our family, we used real ones collected from the special education class at the local Barber College. And, boy, was it hard making sure our dog Lung Oyster (I named him after our chain-smoking nanny, whose name was Spotty) didn’t eat most of them before we could get them on the tree! But I’m sure most families have the same problem.
My family was also very musical. My father was a banjo player, though his fingers were webbed, a genetic trait that pops up in our family every now and then due to a quick dalliance an ancestor once had with a platypus. “Lips are fine,” she said, “but a bill really enchants the little man in the boat.” Mother played raw kidney. I can still hear it slapping against her leg in time to one of our favorite Thanksgiving Carols, “Blessed be Those Who Shove Stuffing in Cavities.” Our family would go house to house on Thanksgiving Day playing our instruments and singing everyone’s favorite holiday songs. I was the least musical of our family, so I would carry Lung Oyster and play him like a bagpipe. The neighbors would gather on their porches, most of them wearing their traditional Thanksgiving crotchless bicycle pants, just like the Pilgrims wore, their blunderbusses dangling, to listen to our renditions of classic Thanksgiving Carols like “Grandma’s Stuffed Yams in Her Girdle Again,” “O Come All Ye Butterballs,” and “We All Know Sis Prefers the Dark Meat.”
It seems like Grandma would be preparing the Thanksgiving feast for the whole week before the big day. She’d usually spend an entire day just baking up her famous Thanksgiving specialty, cat pie. She made enough cat pies for dinner, and for everyone to take one home with them. I liked Siamese the best because after a slice I’d have less fur in my teeth. Sis liked Abyssinian. I still laugh when I think about how after every Thanksgiving meal she’d grab her favorite cat pie and say, “Abyssinia guys next year!” as she walked out the door. Grandma didn’t really enjoy making cat pies, but she respected all great American traditions. “The Pilgrims offered cat pies to the Indians,” she used to tell us, “so they’d teach the Pilgrims how to grow marijuana. That’s why the Pilgrims came to this country. For the dope, you know. Now light your old granny a splif while I whack the tail off this Persian.” If we were good, we got to hang the fresh cat tail on the Thanksgiving tree! If Lung Oyster didn’t eat it first.
Our family also believed in helping the less fortunate on Thanksgiving Day. Most of the morning we’d spend volunteering at the local homeless shelter, serving up big helpings of loose screws and lugnuts from Dad’s jars he kept in the garage. Sure, it was sacrifice, but the looks on the faces of those needy people were heartwarming. Every year I thought we’d run out of loose screws. But not in my family! We were never out of loose screws. After we were finished, when every last person in line had had his fill of lugnuts, Mom would always invite a few over to the house to join us in our Thanksgiving celebration. They always added so much color to our feast. We’d all laugh and give thanks as Lung Oyster grabbed their legs and wouldn’t let go. “Those screams,” Dad reminded us, “take us back to that first Thanksgiving, and the Indians decorating their Thanksgiving tree with Pilgrim scalps.” That always made us think about what it must have been like, that first Thanksgiving, how bloody and disgusting it was. Which we thought was cool. And at the end of the evening every one of the invited needy guests went back to his cardboard box where he slept with his own cat pie. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Sprinkle a little bit of tropical fish food on top of a warm piece of cat pie, and, man, that was mighty good eatin’!
During the meal, everyone had to talk about what his favorite food was on the table and how it related to Thanksgiving. Of course, all of us usually picked the same food and the same story every year, just like everyone probably does in your family. I always chose the creamed leeches to talk about. How the Pilgrims had come to this country to escape religious persecution and grow pot, but almost starved to death because they’d forgotten to pack eating utensils. But they were lucky, those Pilgrims, they’d come to America, the land of leeches. You could eat leeches, even as they were eating you. And you didn’t need a fork. So we eat creamed leeches on Thanksgiving to remind us of that miracle, and of what the Pilgrims’ descendants, now called Tea Party Republicans, believe. America is full of leeches. Eat them before they suck us dry. You know, no matter how many times I tell it, it still touches me.
So I’m sorry for writing just another boring Thanksgiving wine blog post. But, you know, we all just have to. Our readers want to know what wine to drink with the Thanksgiving feast, and I know that almost everyone in America now turns to wine blogs for their wine and food pairing needs. And it’s a good time to remind everyone to be grateful. For sulfites. For the blessing that is an alcoholic blackout. For 89 point wines, and not that crap with lower numbers. For drunken harvest interns and their genitalia. For genitalia. For the miracle that is the Internet, which replaces the voices in our own head with the voices of even sicker people, and for pennies a day. For back labels, the mattress tags of wine. For laughter, for joy, for armpit orgasms.
Every Thanksgiving, it’s my job to go down to the wine cellar and bring up a surprise to serve with our dinner. Most years, I bring up Grandma, wondrously taxidermied, more carefully stuffed than the bird on the table, usually a cassowary. And I bring up wine. Lots of it. What kind of wine goes best with Thanksgiving’s many bounties? The good stuff, the stuff you share with the people you love. You know what it is. Go get it.
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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