All my life, I’ve been an enigma. Love a raucous party. Crave solitude like air. I cheer classical values, yet, I’m not what you’d call an American traditionalist. Take Gout Day. Oh. Excuse me. Thanksgiving. No two are the same.
Some years I’m sharing a long table with raucous friends. Family? Just the one now. My delightful, talented and beautiful artist of a daughter bursting with mischief is a few thousand miles away. COVID and finances postponed our traditional Thanksgiving observance. Like us, it’s not remotely traditional.
We go ethnic. Chinese. Moroccan. Cuban. Pick a culture. A couple years back, we had a 5-star Greek restaurant in Malibu to ourselves. Ate like King and Princess. Some of the staff sat with us. We laughed, toasted, exchanged gratitudes. Indy was thankful she had just the two nostrils. One waitress was happy there wasn’t actually a person named Pink Floyd. Happiness, art, friends, health, dreams, snuck onto our lists. Afterward, under a warm November night, my daughter and I strolled along the beach, sat in the sand and watched a wise and content full moon over salt water.
Waves gently crashing, we exchanged fond Do You Remembers. I used to run track with a star sprinter. Steve Huntsinger’s family ran one of Earth’s largest turkey farms. He dated my sister-like substance, Tweedie. Indy Pie topped that with a Didja Know that there wasn’t any turkey at the original Thanksgiving celebration in 1621. They shared a meal of oysters, lobster, eel, venison and geese. Ate with knives and wooden spoons as the fork had yet to be invented. Conspicuously missing with the centerpiece turkey. No green bean casseroles. No gravy. No mashed potatoes. No jellied cranberry sauce. No pumpkin pie. I trumped her factoid that the biggest turkey ever to roam the Earth was from the Pleistocene Epoch. Several skeletons had been retrieved from the La Brea Tarpits “as opposed to the La Brea Armpits” and “scientists estimated the great birds stood 23 feet tall and weighed 3.5 tons.”
Deadpanned, chin on knees, she asked: “Dad. Are you lying?”
“Kidding,” I corrected. “They were maybe only 22 feet tall and didn’t gobble but went…” I uttered a low, menacing growl. A pre-teen then, she wouldn’t give me the pleasure of even a smile.
I gently pushed her. She giggled.
I just looked this up. The actual largest turkey, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, weighed 86 pounds. When I was Indy’s age, I used to have an after-school job of cleaning out A.B. Perkins’ turkey pens up Wildwood Canyon in Newhall. Perk was the fabled and original town historian and our paths crossed over the years. We even shared an office. This was long before I became the local keeper of the cobwebs and never once asked old A.B. a single history question. Still kicking myself today.
The Peters are my adopted second family. We had an epic long-ago Thanksgiving feast and I sat across from a little person who owns a suite in my heart. My niece-like substance Stefanie was 10 and asked me to pass the salt. With pretend stern face I asked: “What do we say?” Stefanie dryly replied: “Pass the salt — damn you.”
“That’s — my girl,” I said.
She’d later become a San Francisco 49er cheerleader and fashion designer. Just turned 50 and still a stunner. Time. Eesh.
Little is known about that first Thanksgiving in 1621. Of that, much comes from a letter from Pilgrim Edward Winslow, one of the Mayflower’s 100-ish survivors. Eddie noted the meal lasted three days. There were four Pilgrim women present. Most had died from the voyage and hardships. There were 22 men and 25 teens and children. Of the Indians from the Pokanoket Wampanoag was King Ousemequin and 90 braves. No women.
That first Thanksgiving was about gratitude. The Pilgrims were grateful they survived the voyage and that first, brutal American winter. The Indians? Giving thanks was a major part of their daily lives. Hunting, fishing, plucking a plant, they offered a conscious blessing. Something I forget driving through McDonald’s.
Indy and I had Chinese one Thanksgiving. My mom had passed years before Indy was born and my dad, Walt, was on his final stretch when Miss Indiana was still a little kid. Locked in an angry karmic relationship of 10,000 lifetimes, Mom and Dad never really liked one another. Growing up, we never had that traditional sit-down turkey dinner, which was a left-handed blessing. Both were dangerous, eye-wateringly awful chefs. They looked at me to be the family glue.
I remember. I was 40-something. We celebrated Thanksgiving by patronizing Carl’s Jr. Wicked me, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t provide the entertainment. We sat for 36 minutes, alone, in a booth. Not A Single. Word. Was. Spoken. I’m pretty sure they didn’t notice. In the parking lot, I smiled and hugged both warmly. We drove off in separate cars. Don’t tell anyone, but some of mom’s ashes are spread outside of Carl’s on Lyons. She loved the place.
I have so many fond, oddball memories of Thanksgiving. Some were spent crammed with people I adore. Other 4th Thursdays in November? Save for a satisfied grin, I’m by myself.
Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, I was ranch-sitting. Solo. Frictionless. Calls were made. But no stock to feed, no aluminum irrigation pipes to move and reconnect. Just make sure no Lutherans or Bigfoot climb over the fence and rummage through the trash. Had pizza and Kirin beer. Watched football. Sat content, by a roaring fire, staring at the stars, alone but not lonely.
I’ll have to tell Indy about a friend who once, on a bet, ate a 33-pound turkey in one sitting. She’ll stare pretend daggers at me. As usual, I’ll smirk, smile then gently push her. We’ll laugh.
The Indians were right. There’s so much in the profound and endless Everymoments for which to be grateful.
Even the innocent fib.
John Boston is a local writer.