Thanksgiving Isn’t Just About Turkey

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 22, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            According to Bloomberg News, Millennials are buying smaller turkeys for Thanksgiving than their parents or grandparents did, — like turkeys that weigh five or six pounds.  The majority of folks are still buying turkeys that weigh 12 or 13 pounds, much smaller than the 30-pound turkeys we used to think we needed for a Thanksgiving feast.  Butterball apparently has everybody covered this year in that they offer turkeys from six pounds to thirty. 

            No doubt all of us have gone through the enormous left-over syndrome each Turkey Day to wanting something smaller than an ostrich, or even to the extent of serving ham, steak, shrimp, etc.  In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest at America’s First Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims and the Indians cooked and served venison rather than wild turkey, or possibly both, but not just turkey. 

            As long as my maternal grandmother was still living, we always had an enormous turkey for dinner after the Thanksgiving Service at our church.  With all the aunts and uncles, and sometimes even the pastor, at the table, there were never too many leftovers.  However, after my grandparents died, and my mother, the oldest sibling, hosted the Thanksgiving meal, Mama switched from a large turkey to a large hen (smaller than a turkey).  By then, there weren’t as many mouths to feed, and you could always double up on the dressing.  The leftovers were manageable.

            My wife and I gave up the tradition of a Thanksgiving turkey from the beginning of our life together.  We remember only too well how many days of leftover turkey we were served by her mother during our Thanksgiving break from teaching.  Turkey sandwiches, even with pepper jelly, got monotonous, and, as the wife always said, “Mother’s turkey soup left much to be desired.”  On alternate years, when we went to my parents for the special day, there were no leftovers from the roasted hen, and my mother would make a huge batch of Wendish-style creamed herring, which, to this day, cause me to drool just thinking about this scrumptious comestible.   (Fortunately, my wife had learned to love creamed herring from her Jewish friends in New York where she lived.)

            Well, in spite of our emphasis on food and more food, Thanksgiving Day is certainly not just about eating so much you fall off your chair.  Nor is it about football.  Back in the days of my childhood in Dime Box, when my grandmother roasted an enormous turkey every year, folks called it “Turkey Day,” and it meant to many Longhorn fans and Aggie fans the big A&M versus Texas game. 

            Trying not to make it a Day about football, my parents, my maternal grandparents, and most of my maternal aunts and uncles went to our little Lutheran church on the hill in Old Dime Box for the special service.  Highway 21 sliced right in front of the church parking lot.  When church turned out near noon, bumper to bumper traffic was going right when the game was in Austin, and, to the left, when the game was in College Station.  We could get to Grandma’s house turning either left or right onto the highway.  There were years when the turkey got really cold waiting for us to get on 21, a feat which required making another turn.  One year, my grandfather had as much as he could take, so he stood on the highway, stopped the traffic, and motioned the three cars loaded with my family members to get on the busy thoroughfare.

            To say we didn’t pig out when we got to Grandma’s table in the dining room would be a lie, because there was pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and koch Kase for dessert, as well as turkey and dressing.  Yet my parents and grandparents had a keen awareness of what this day celebrated by all Americans was really about.  My grandfather made sure we all understood what that was, the church service being just the beginning.  World War II was raging and it meant thanking God for those who served (including family members), and asking God to protect them and all others.  It also meant thanking Him for the abundance we enjoyed every day of our lives.     

              No, it’s not just about turkey, that’s for sure.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor.

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