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New: The Preposterous Rituals of Turkey Day

Posted on Nov 23, 2016


Call me sentimental, but my mind is wholly occupied with turkey and potatoes today.

Thanksgiving in my household was always a bit of a confusion, partly because we never knew exactly who might show up for dinner. As a local pastor, my father maintained a more or less constant open-door-policy with his parishioners, meaning that all 300 members of the congregation were theoretically welcome when it came time to carve the turkey. In addition to this prodigious crowd, my father’s property generally played host to an eclectic assortment of animals, including, but not limited to, one cat, one dog, two parakeets, three obese chickens, and two stupendously moronic goats (Dad was an urban farmer before the role was co-opted by bespectacled twenty-somethings from Brooklyn), all of whom seemed fond of wandering in and out of the house with a blatant disregard for both basic social etiquette and screen doors. All in all, Clark Thanksgivings were usually characterized by barely managed yet jovial chaos, making them pretty standard affairs as far as holidays go.

And yet, this craziness was an important part of my home’s identity. My childhood wouldn’t have been the same without the sound of gravy burbling on the range, or the smell of stuffing roasting in a turkey’s belly. The feast wouldn’t have been quite right without my father’s elaborate Thanksgiving grace, which blessed everything from family members to the Seattle Seahawk’s punters (who could barely manage a kick over twenty yards in those days and needed all the help they could get). I can’t imagine a home without our annual search for the turkey leftovers (which always mysteriously disappeared after the meal was over) or my father’s yearly attempt to hang Christmas lights from the roof (which usually ended with dear old Pops falling off a ladder and clinging to a gutter or downspout). Looking back, it was the zaniness, the sheer weirdness of being with family, that was most meaningful.

And it is this endearing quirkiness that I miss the most as an adult living far from home. As I write this modest column, I’m sitting in a Denver cafe many hundreds of miles away from my native Puget Sound. It’s snowing out here in the shadow of the Rockies, and people are rushing through the slush in oversized jackets and boots, and I will not be home for Thanksgiving. My father’s retired now, so the congregation won’t show up, and my childhood dog is no longer alive (neither are the goats, of course, but I never liked them much anyway). Overall, the world seems a trifle strange these days, and I feel as if I’ve lost something simultaneously important and unfamiliar. In times such as these, when the snow is howling and winter is coming, I find it even more important to remember the preposterous rituals of home.

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