Cars line our street. Everyone’s family is in town. The smells of the Thanksgiving are what get me the most, they are all over the neighborhood. My wife is in the kitchen contributing a few merry aromas of her own.
There is a parade of scents coming from our place. Holiday candles, cinnamon apples, corn casserole. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but my dogs have escaped from the backyard and are running around playing with what can only be described as a rotting raccoon carcass.
My dog, Thelma Lou (bloodhound), enjoys carcasses of all kinds. She is a carcass connoisseur you could say. She will roll in anything that vaguely smells like decomposing flesh. She will also roll in anything that smells like goat excrement until there are bits of what appear to be squashed brownies embedded within her fur. Which brings up a very good point:
Not in all my life have I ever smelled anything I loved enough to roll in. With the exception of, perhaps, my mother’s turkey gravy. Which I always think about during Thanksgiving. I love turkey gravy.
When I was a boy, I used to have immoral thoughts about turkey gravy. I would lie in bed and stare at tri-fold photographs of gravy from glossy cooking magazines like “Bon Appétit” or “The Betty Crocker Cookbook.” I don’t know why, but turkey gravy speaks to me.
Turkey gravy isn’t complicated. Once, my mother showed me how she made it. It was painfully simple—basically it was just turkey juices and a few herbs.
Then again, the women in my family were Thanksgiving Day magicians who knew their way around more than just gravy. I can remember when my aunt would take over the kitchen during the holidays. She would make mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing, sweet potato pie, and my mother would be cooking a turkey that was big enough to saddle up and ride in the rodeo.
The kitchen would be alive with people. Smells of cookies, cinnamon, ham, gingerbread. Sounds of laughter, and Perry Como singing.
The counters would be dusted with flour, and whenever my uncle even placed a pinky toe past the kitchen threshold, five women would throw various sharp objects at him.
And still, somehow, he would always manage to escape with a handful of spiral ham. Which he would be glad to share with you, provided you were a former U.S. president, or the pope. If you were, however, just a regular eleven-year-old boy with a chubby face and a stunning personality, you were slap out of luck.
But this was okay. Because there was other food around the house.
During my era, we had what was called “side-table food.” We had holiday snacks on every single desk, coffee table, pedestal, and flat surface in the house, including the top of the refrigerator.
I don’t know what’s happened to America, but I think sofa-table food needs to make a comeback.
I can remember visiting my friends’ houses during holidays. You could not walk two feet into anyone’s house without finding Christmas nuts in Santa-shaped bowls, complete with industrial pliers. Or huge Brazil nuts that required a butane blowtorch and a welding helmet to open.
Or cheese straws, snowman cookies, gingerbread men, lemon squares, lady fingers, saltwater taffy, red pistachios, or yogurt covered pretzels.
Don’t even get me started on yogurt covered pretzels. When I was a kid, I was all about yogurt covered pretzels. I could distinguish between which ones were homemade and which were store bought. The two are totally different.
Store bought yogurt pretzels taste vaguely like plastic. Homemade ones taste like holding hands with Billy Graham while riding the teacup ride at Disneyworld.
Right around the beginning of November, all the mothers of America would place bowls of snack food all over their houses. A boy could survive for decades by simply eating sofa-table food until he had developed type-two diabetes and all his teeth had rotted out.
Whenever you finished eating all the side-table fare, it was time to move on to the next level of holiday snack food.
Barrels of cheap flavored popcorn.
This stuff was popular during my childhood, too. We always had five-gallon barrels of popcorn around the house. These barrels were usually bought from somewhere that you’d least expect to buy popcorn. Like Sears, or a beauty salon, a real estate sales office, or Art’s Television Repair.
The popcorn was old and stale, because it was manufactured during World War II before being placed into storage. And the popcorn came in four classic flavors: Caramel, cheese-flavor, cinnamon, or imitation butter. This stuff lasted forever, you could never eat it all, so you would close the lid and save it for the next year.
Anyway, tonight I was thinking about all this while I watched “White Christmas,” with Bing, Danny, Rosemary, and Vera Ellen (with the world’s smallest waist). I ate barreled popcorn, and smelled a powerfully nostalgic aroma I thought was coming from the kitchen. It was a strong odor. I could almost taste it.
“What is that?” I asked my wife, who was in the kitchen, cooking.
“Huh?” she hollered back.
“That smell. It smells like turkey gravy.”
“It’s not,” she said. “I’m not making any gravy.”
“Really? Then what is that smell?”
And that’s when we discovered that our dog had dragged a dead raccoon carcass into our house and left it under the sofa.
I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving.
Chris Spencer - November 29, 2019 10:26 am
I had turkey gravy yesterday for Thanksgiving and it didn’t smell anything like a rotten, raccoon carcass lol.
I got it and some turkey breasts and cornbread dressing from Bates Turkey Farm in Fort Deposit, Alabama and it all was as good as any I’ve ever had. Try it, you won’t be disappointed. They are just the thing for an old man who lives alone and doesn’t like to cook.
I understand they also have a restaurant in Greenville, Alabama, the Bates House of Turkey I think is the name.
I pray you all had a very blessed and Happy Thanksgiving.
Barbara Yeida Zuleski - November 29, 2019 12:46 pm
Laughed till I cried! Happy Thanksgiving.
Jay Southerland - November 29, 2019 12:46 pm
Wow. Your daily stories are always a treat. Yes, we had the same table snacks, popcorn, and every southern Thanksgiving dish you could imagine. It was an affair. Yesterday was similar for us. Some things have changed, but many are the same. Family was here and that was what made it special. God bless and thank you for sharing your stories. They make many people laugh and happy. Jay (Hometown of Perry, Fl in North Florida otherwise known as South Georgia)
Susie - November 29, 2019 1:22 pm
Shelton A. - November 29, 2019 1:48 pm
MY German Shepherd, Gabriel, once found a dead armadillo while we were out on a walk. He turned it inside out and started rolling and didn’t stop until I pulled him off which was a chore. He stunk!! It took a whole 1/2 gallon of white vinegar (suggested by a friend) to get rid of the smell. Gabriel hated smelling like vinegar. He walked around the apartment sneezing. But he didn’t stink to high heaven anymore. The next day I drug him away from the dead thing before he could get at it. That night, some gracious critter took the dead armadillo away. Gabriel sniffed the ground and tried to roll on that but I stopped him. I empathize with your dog issues. Been there, cleaned that. My hands smelled like vinegar for a week.
Edna B. - November 29, 2019 2:36 pm
It sounds like you had a great Thanksgiving day, hugs, Edna B.
John in Texas - November 29, 2019 2:38 pm
Yesterday we had a normal, traditional Thanksgiving fare, turkey, cornbread dressing, turkey gravy, sweet potato casserole, squash, green beans etc. Afterward we talked about how so many people don’t have the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. So many places were advertising meals and people were posting how they went out for bbq and all kinds of other meals. One woman posted how she missed her mom’s dressing. She never learned how to make it. My in-laws were at my wife’s cousins and we were not sure what they were eating. My wife’s mom never made dressing. My wife learned from mother. Our adult children wondered how long it would be before the next generations didn’t eat turkey and the food we associate with Thanksgiving. It was kind of sad to think it may be one of those things that get lost in history.
Dave W - November 29, 2019 2:53 pm
Your writing just makes laugh until I hurt!!!
Janice Daniel Silverhill, AL - November 29, 2019 3:06 pm
You’re a blessing to so many Sean. Thank you for making me laugh this morning as i drink my coffee. When my kids were growing up I always had a dessert table with cakes, cookies, pies, all the good stuff. Neighbors & friends would drop by without even calling first! Folks just don’t visit like they used to and especially without calling first. Those were the good old days.
Connie Havard Ryland - November 29, 2019 3:12 pm
In the midst of actually laughing out loud at my desk, I had visions of my mom’s house during the holidays. There was always food sitting around in every kind of container imaginable on every surface. My step dad built her a kind of bar dividing the dining room and living room that was maybe 12’ long. It was loaded with every kind of snack you can imagine. It was heaven for every person who walked in, whether you wanted salty snacks to go with your adult beverage or something sweet with your coffee. Thank you for making us reach into our minds and hearts for our treasured memories. Some days they make me sad. Today they make me smile.
Sharon - November 29, 2019 3:23 pm
Your column is my go-to with my first cup of coffee in the morning. Thank you for making me laugh. I never knew there was a name for the snacks my mother, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters placed on every flat surface–Side-table food. I am using that moniker from now on.
The smells of Thanksgiving are my fondest memories. My parents raised six children, five girls and the lone boy. We all had assigned chores and the kitchen was packed. Tuesday was cornbread and stuffing, the Wednesday before was pie day. We smelled pecan, mince, pumpkin, and sometimes cherry cooking all day long. We would wake up to the smell of turkey roasting in the oven on Thanksgiving Day. Waffles for breakfast because they didn’t require the use of the stove.
My grandteens who crave traditions will smell cheesy potato casserole and roasting turkey this morning followed by a baking pecan pie. And waffles for breakfast.
Have a great day Sean. God bless you, Jamie, and your mother. And the dogs.
Myra G. - November 29, 2019 6:21 pm
Side-table food, yes! It’s been years and years.
But no matter the holiday, my in-law’s little home was complimented with little bowls of nuts fudge, peanut brittle, etc. Sweet times, my busy self forgot to love. 🙁
Dawn Bratcher - November 29, 2019 6:21 pm
HaHaHa! Good one, Sean! You are so right about the snacks that were everywhere before the BIG meal…I usually ate so much, I would be afraid I wouldn’t be hungry later – HAH! NO WAY!
We did have a nice family meal with my sister-in-law & her family; but I missed my daughters not being able to come. Maybe next year!
Now on to CHRISTMAS!!! ❤