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.