Of birds and our first American liberal
It’s a shame we need holidays to act as catalysts for these extended get togethers. Our lives should have time for parties regardless of the season.
Despite the huge amounts of food consumed, friends in supermarket circles say Thanksgiving is a stressful business time for them. Turkey price wars eat away all the profits. Enjoy the fruits of competition and buy a big turkey. Something about the sheer size of a turkey wobbling around the bottom of a shopping cart satisfies my inner glutton.
I have a dodgy record with turkeys and Thanksgivings. As a novice I followed the when-in-doubt-go-big credo and bought the largest bird I could see. Later, in a panic to defrost it in time, I dropped it in a bathtub of hot water and left for work. Our bathroom stank of rotten meat for a week,and hastily bought roast chickens don’t quite cut it on Thanksgiving.
When Gayle became a vegetarian, we explored the synthesized and simulated turkeys, or “tofurkey.” A “Tofurkey” tastes pretty much how it sounds, sort of like a juiced-up giant softball. Even the dogs looked annoyed at us that year.
After we moved towns, we felt it safe to host another dinner, and I persuaded Gayle that an organic turkey would be OK. “A fine happy bird frolicking in its healthy meadow free of steroids and antibiotics that suddenly drops dead!” Sounded great in principle. But in the flesh, one dead animal looks like another, organic or not. The guests, dogs and I sympathized with her post-cooking nausea between succulent mouthfuls of flesh.
If looking for a turkey raised in healthier conditions without antibiotics and growth hormones, look for the labels “certified organic” or “no antibiotics.” The USDA’s “all natural” label misleads a little, since meat raised with hormones and antibiotics qualifies.
Now we opt out of the morals and inept cooking and eat at friends’ places. We try to choose a meal absent football. I can watch football any Sunday, but conversing with the eclectic mix of people at a good Thanksgiving bash is a once-a year-event. TV is the death of a gathering.
Thanksgiving reminds me of the Puritans, or more accurately the Separatists, who settled at Plymouth in 1620. The Puritans remained in England for awhile longer, trying to purify the church. The Separatists left and seemed not to know the concept of settling in a new land. They didn’t bring a plow, a cow or fishing line but remembered those wilderness essentials of sundials and the complete history of turkey. The occupations represented included a hatter and a shopkeeper. I mean who would want to settle in a land where you couldn’t shop for a good hat?
Between December and April their number decreased from 102 to 54. Fortunately a local Indian, Tisquantum, befriended them, gave them food, showed them how to plant corn, kill wildfowl, be friends with the local chiefs, etc. The pilgrims thrived and Thanksgiving became a tradition.
Anyone who’s studied the native Algonquian tongues may wonder how they understood anything.
Fortuitously, Tisquantum, or Squanto, as the settlers preferred to call him (they couldn’t pronounce his name), spoke fluent English and Spanish. This was a result of his being taken to England in 1605, then upon his release as an interpreter from a whaling expedition in 1613 being promptly recaptured, transported and sold as a servant in Spain. He made it back to England and then on an expedition to the New World in 1619. Just in time to save the pilgrims.
Despite his experiences of slavery and his tribe dying from a smallpox epidemic accidentally introduced by English sailors, Squanto still wanted to help these struggling immigrants. He may have been the first New World liberal, acting as the pilgrims’ ambassador and arguing against all the established natives’ protests about “Algonquin language first and only!” “Welfare pilgrims!” and “Social food and health programs just reduce incentive to succeed!”
Fortunately for the America we know, he succeeded. Maybe as we chow down on a fat turkey in a community built on luxury and leisure, we can not only give thanks for the good fortune and luck to be us, but some charitable thoughts to those struggling to survive all over the world.
Who knows if Tisquantum just liked the English (he “d lived with them for 15 years), had some motive to profit from this friendship, or wanted to help merely for the sake of helping. He died of a fever a year later. By then we were on our way.
Alan Braunholtz, ski instructor and raft guide, writes a weekly column for the Daily.