Thursday, November 24, 2005


Wednesday, November 23—2 p.m.
Since 916 will be hosting its first Thanksgiving, I figured a written record would be appropriate. We'll be eating in just about 24 hours, so I thought I'd provide the first update for this year's Thanksgiving meal, meal preparation, and the random musings therein.

Over the past few years, I’ve received mixed feedback regarding the actual time investment required to prepare Thanksgiving dinner. As one who prefers to err on the side of caution, I began the first subtle movements toward dinner six days ago.

The family spread out for this year’s holiday, so Katharine and I settled on a simple menu focused on quality and tender-hearted goodness. Our modest five-person meal (including three-year-old Xander) is a variation of what my mother-in-law refers to as The Menu:

· Pumpkin and sausage soup
· 16-pound turkey
· French salad*
· Fried sweet potatoes
· Sweet smoky beans
· Avocado salad
· Cranberries
· Cranberry margaritas
· Pumpkin pie*
· Apple pie*
· Mashed potatoes
· Creole stuffing
· Italian stuffing
· Classic stuffing
· Wine
· Cheese and crackers
· Glazed ham
· Scalloped potatoes
· Yams
· Stuffed artichokes

* To be prepared by my father-in-law

I think we’ll touch all the culinary bases without overextending ourselves.

I hope the real joy of this year’s meal comes from starting new traditions, beginning with the centerpiece of our meal—Lance, the free-range Oklahoman turkey.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to Ray Ray, a dear friend from college. RR’s parents raise turkeys in the yard of their Arlington, Texas home. Each year at Thanksgiving, RR and family choose the plumpest turkey from the yard, say a prayer together, and begin a delightful series of rituals honoring the turkey’s noble sacrifice.

RR spoke so lovingly of these family traditions, I immediately thought my own family would benefit from doing the same.

Six days ago, I drove north up Interstate 75 from Richardson to Achille, Oklahoma—a town totaling 520 residents on 0.4 square miles of incorporated land. Not much to sneeze at really, but Achilles’ claim to fame is Terry Tecklenberg’s Free Range Turkey Farm.

The Farm, as it’s known in town, actually sits five miles outside the incorporated city limits on a small, unkempt highway. In Achille, The Farm maintains a visitor’s booth with a full catalogue of purchasing options, etc.

Before I digress any further, I’ll summarize the trip. I drove into Achille, met a rich cast of wonderful characters including Pooky the town greeter, purchased a 16-pound turkey named Lance, and returned home with my prize.

The Ritual
The first turkey tradition, as described by RR, is the prayer itself. I gathered Katharine and Xander in the courtyard at 916, carefully eased Lance out of his pine box, and tied him to 48-inch post coated with muddled Serrano peppers and agave leaves.

As a secular family, we stumbled briefly on the prayer before settling on the Serenity Prayer, which I know well from my mother’s days as a drug-dependency counselor. I then hummed a few bars of Amazing Grace.

Very austere.

The next step called for drumming and chants. Having no drums and knowing no chants, I drove over to Record Town at the Valley View Mall and picked up a CD of tribal music. I then returned home and played the CD four times consecutively to honor Lance—who looked nervous, but regal and calm.

I’ve spent nearly my entire life living in cities, so the need to kill an animal never really came up. To prepare myself, I did a little reading on ritual sacrifice—a fascinating topic, really. The Celts and Druids drank the blood of their sacrificed human victims, whose throats were cut over cauldrons, and burned their bodies alive in wickerwork gages.

The Aztecs cut the hearts out of the human sacrifices with flint knives; the priest held the still-beating heart aloft, and then placed it in a ceremonial receptacle. The body was frequently dismembered and eaten as an act of ritual cannibalism.

The Khonds of southern India speared their victims on stakes and cut off pieces of their backs to fertilize the earth.

The sacrifice of the first born child was also prominent throughout the early years of humanity—practiced by various cultures, and with a marked increase during troubled times. During the Punic Wars, for example, the nobility of Carthage sacrificed hundreds of children to the god Baal by throwing them into fire pits.

The Hebrews also offered blood sacrifices. The Biblical book of Leviticus, in the Old Testament, features full instructions for sacrificing animals and fowl. In Genesis, Cain offered the first fruits of his harvest, which did not please the Lord. His brother Abel, conversely, offered one of his flock. This pleased the Lord, though Abel ultimately signed his own death certificate as a result.

God tests Abraham in the book of Genesis by instructing him to sacrifice his son Issaac. At the last minute Isaac is permitted to substitute a lamb. I found no mention of wicker baskets, dismemberment, or flint knives, but the story lives on in Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited.

Oops…time is getting away from me. I need to prepare the beans and soup stock. Also, it’s time to break into the Thanksgiving scotch.

More to come later.

Wednesday, November 23—10 p.m.
The beans have simmered, the stock is stocky, and my palate gives many thanks to Johnny Walker.

About three hours ago, I found myself covered in corn meal and barbeque sauce. Lance, perhaps sensing his fate, began gobbling incessantly. I poured an additional two fingers of scotch, turned on Ave Maria, and sharpened my knives.

I’m on way out to the yard now.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 23—11:30 p.m.
Bruce Willis has nothing on this fucking bird. If Lance called President Bush and volunteered to go to Iraq, the President would have to listen, or else find himself on the wrong end of the fucking jailhouse shiv posing as a beak.

I have a two-inch laceration on my fucking neck, and I can’t feel my left hand.

Lance is hurting now, though.

I went out to hum a few more bars of Amazing Grace before enjoining him in the ritual of giving thanks. Without warning, Lance went medieval on my ass.

Apparently, Lance had been chewing on his agave-and-pepper tie-down post and turned his beak into some sort of spicy implement of death. About the time I finished humming, he sprung in a flurry of talons, frenzied gobbling, and the loosed contents of his giblets.

He drew first blood, opening my neck like the goddamn frontier, spoiling the ritual wicker basket I’d purchased at Pier One earlier in the week with my own blood. The pepper paste on his beak burned deeply and awoke a primal beast within me.

I quickly rolled on my back, unfurled the garden hose, and proceeded to choke him out. The blood loss made woozy, though, and I tired before finishing the job. Lance was also shaky and couldn’t muster another attack. I got to my feet, grabbed the garden shovel from the shed, and swung mightily.

Lance fell, but a low, mournful cooing joined him in his wounded slumber.

I came back into the house, poured two fingers of scotch, and started this report.

Thursday, November 24—6:30 a.m.
Apparently, the scotch got the better of me. Katharine just found me on the couch, wounded, and sleeping deeply.

Unfortunately, Lenny, our blood-thirsty feral cat, got the better of Lance.

We just came in from the yard, where Lenny growled savagely over a pile of blood, feathers, and entrails. Lance—the regal, free-range warrior—was no more.

What the fuck are we going to eat for Thanksgiving dinner? Our guests are due in seven hours, and we have no bird.