Thanksgiving: a day of giving thanks; literally. I am reminded of last year about a friend of mine that had told me that he did not celebrate this holiday, as it was too religious. I agreed that while it may have a religious beginning it was a giving of thanks for the abundant harvest and it has over the generations turned to something far more than my ancestors ever could have imagined. I think I can be fairly sure that when my Great, Great, Great… (I am going to be tired of typing great long before I reach him and I am sure you get the picture) grandfather, or whatever it is that he was, sat down at that first thanksgiving feast, his prayers were more about giving thanks that he and most of the others had made it through the first winter. And that with the bountiful harvest of the year he and the other Pilgrims were even more likely to make it through yet another winter, well baring unforeseen sickness that is. I am quite sure that as he bowed his head he was not merely praying to his god and just thanking him for the meal no there were many more little thanks that he and we can say. The coming to this land and surviving, the ability to worship as he wished, a land of opportunity, a land were with hard work one could make his/her own way in this new world. In as much as the first thanksgiving was about religion it was much more about freedoms and opportunity. It was freedom or opportunity that has made many of our ancestors come here.
After having come to the west coast I found myself in my normal position of not having many friends. Oh, I knew lots of people and many that I could say hi to and have a brief conversation with, but that was about it. I think it was the second year that I was out here when I was living in a trailer in a small park next to the bay a place we all lovingly or not called “The Point” and working in a Tavern that everyone called Alice’s’ even though it was named L & P Hoovers pub and grill. The Point sat on the edge of a bay there wasn’t much of a point to it but then again for the life of me I can’t remember what the real name of it is. There was a collection folks that lived out there from the former Chicago cop that owned it to the one or two that couldn’t catch a break to save their life, and those in between. That year Hoover’s decided to close their doors for Thanksgiving for the first time in the fifteen or so years that they had owned the place. So out at the “Point” we decided that we would have dinner. There were some decent hard working people out at the Point that for what ever reason never had much more than their rent and beer money, once they paid their rent most didn‘t have more than two nickels between them and that was only because they had just returned their beer cans.
I would be remise if I didn‘t tell you about “Bud” my roommate, what can you say about a man that goes by the name Bud Turkel… except maybe the obvious… it wasn’t his real name, his real name is far from important for this story. I met Bud at that tavern and he drank Budweiser; of course, because as he said; on more than one occasion; Because yoU Deserve What Everyone Intelligent Should Enjoy Regularly. Okay so it’s not the best acronym to have ever been fashioned but it worked for him. And as it says or used to say on the wall at the Rogue Ale public house a Pelican can hold so much in his mouth… I wonder why. I know it makes less sense, but he when you drink beer you don’t always have to make sense.
Bud always had an idea about something building it, tweaking it or working on it, it consumed his days. I think that was one of the reasons that I found myself sucked into his circle. It was always something with Bud don’t get me wrong the man had some great ideas even after the beer wore off. Though I never really saw him finish one he always told me that he could build ships in a bottle and of one that he supposedly built that sits in a maritime museum in Astoria, Oregon I don’t necessarily doubt him I just have never seen it. I can’t be sure as to the reason why he never finished one, perhaps the time and precision needed was lost to him, as it was a few years before I met him that he had been fishing in the Alaskan Seas when he was crushed in a net reel. As a fabricator however, that was different I watched him on more than one occasion take pile of metal and build something out of it, or take some rusted pile of what the hell is that into oh that’s what that’s supposed to be. I went with him over to one of the boats once helping him move some of his equipment out on to the docks and over to a fishing vessel and helped while he welded in the hold, making metal stick in places that I was sure was nothing more than slime over slime. They never came back to tell him it didn’t hold, well the boat came back, they just never said that it broke again. He claims to have had a small foundry where he poured rings and other jewelry items for one of the major chains.
His birthday is just three days before mine and well, let me tell you about one of his birthday adventures. I think it was the year I met him but we weren’t roommates yet and that’s probably the only reason I was not part of it. He took off from the point in his skiff and went across the bay to have his yard of ale at the Rogue brewery on the bay front. He tied his skiff to one of the docks along the bay front and went to the pub and of course his one-yard turned into many more pints and he was feeling no pain by the time he left. He climbed into his little skiff and headed back to the point. Now Bud having been a fisherman for most of his life and being somewhat notorious in Newport, for matters that may or may not have anything to do with our story, as he was headed across the bay one of the many fishing boats that call Newport home was coming under the bridge. It was nearly impossible to mistake this boat for any other in the fleet, as it listed to one side empty or full. From what I understand they never could figure out why it did it just did that’s the way it was and that’s the way it was always going to be. Now being a bit full of himself, more so than any other time that is, as he was, he went out to see them actually buzz them is more like it. What he didn’t see or maybe he did, who can be sure of that know I don’t, was the Coast Guard. Its not that you could miss their station, no they were out playing too, being that he was buzzing the fishing boat he was not of course adhering to the rules of the water as they are or rules of reality for that matter. A nine foot skiff with a tiny motor (think sound of a moped) and a fifty five foot fishing boat the ‘Pelican’ (around there but I am sure you get the picture) he buzzed along side waving and hollering to the owner/captain and his crew of two, swung around behind them nearly sinking in the wake but managing as he said with skill, and pure dumb luck, to come back around to the front only to miss judge its speed and be swamped by the bow wake just as the two collided. With much hollering and cajoling and yes even some begging, he was pulled aboard the fishing boat and then summarily arrested for what would be the first BUI or Bowie in the bay. That pretty much gives you a good picture of my roommate you either loved him or you hated him and I couldn’t hate him. He was always good for a laugh; to laugh at or with he didn’t care so long as he had your attention. There is one more thing I should tell you about him, his voice; according to him he was bitten twice by black widow spiders one on each side of his larynx and had to have it scrapped and now it sounded as if he had smoked three packs a day since he came out of his mothers womb, heck maybe even before. It’s gravelly, not just a good radio gravelly, let’s just say he did Wolfman Jack better than Wolfman Jack and talk about the best pirate voice. With his normally tussled red hair and red beard all he had to do was close one eye real tight and say ‘AAAAAARRRRRGGHHHH’ and you could believe that you were watching a real pirate in action, watch him walk and the illusion was complete.
There was little true planning for what was to become the Point Thanksgiving dinner. I think it was about a week or so before that everyone started coming by and adding to the list of things that we needed or that they would bring over for us to have. I can’t be sure if it was my roommates idea or if it was another of the point residents that decided that we needed to have the meal at our place but whoever it was that came up with it well we all agreed. That was of course just the beginning. Walter the ‘Czech’ came to the door and told us that he was given a ham that he was going to cook up along with yams and some desserts. Now Walter was a sous chef in what we call a previous life, or profession for those of you that have had just one. He escaped the iron curtain back in the late sixties by crossing the border of Czechoslovakia and shooting at a border guard to that day he didn’t know if he had even hit him he just knew that he was over the border and on his way to the United States. His food was always excellent if he cooked it you knew it was going to be good no matter what it was. In another of his lives he claimed to have taken art lessons from that Saturday Evening Post guy Norman Rockwell again I can‘t be sure about that, but I do know he could draw just about anything. Later that night Sena (won’t you be my neighbor), our Sicilian neighbor offered to bake some pies and make a pasta dish that her family always had on thanksgiving. She was always bringing something over from her house, mostly pastries or cakes, but only if she could have some raviolis. I had a ravioli connection from New York and once in a while I would call and get some shipped out C.O.D. or send some crab meat and shrimp back and he would send me some raviolis back it was a good relationship and no one ever complained about what they had to spend to get some. I had called Utica, to my old buddies Cheese factory and ordered some cheese ravioli’s and some of his great sauce, that I had intended to have on thanksgiving, but when she had made the offer we knew that she wouldn’t come through unless I came through first. Since they arrived the day before I and I didn’t want them to spoil before turkey day I broke down and made them… who am I kidding they never lasted longer than the day they arrived anyway. Why would I want to break that tradition?
Over the week preceding the big day we were bombarded by what people were going to bring or what they needed to get to from someone else to make or finish whatever dish they wanted. Each was asked if they had the room to cook their contribution and we, Bud and I were forced into making room and setting up a timetable for the things that we would have the privilege of tossing in our oven or warming up on the outside grill. One thing I must say I truly like about living in the northwest and that’s the ability to grill outside nearly everyday.
Thanksgiving started the night before, when two friends of my then roommate showed up at the door and brought him a little gift. They brought him one yellow eye and one halibut each weighed about ten and thirty pounds respectively and neither of them were, to my knowledge anyway, in season.
On thanksgiving morning I was treated to the smells of halibut being fried in garlic and butter. So for breakfast I was forced to eat some. As a second course there was eggs brought over by another resident of the point, as well as some link sausages, bacon, pancakes, doughnuts, well you get the picture. It was around the end of our breakfast that we decided on a time to eat dinner. For lunch we were treated to grilled yellow eye, Dungeness crab cakes a little ham and after my third nap of the day and about two pant sizes I was ready to help with dinner.
Dinner consisted of about fifteen courses or better. Halibut, ham, turkey, prime rib, yellow eye, Dungeness crab, mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, baked potatoes, snap peas, cheese beans, corn on the cob, potato salad, macaroni salad, tossed greens salad, risotto, peas, and pies… pumpkin pies apple pies chocolate pies and chocolate cake. There was of course plenty of Budweiser and a few good liqueurs and some decent wines.
Later as my roommate and I looked about our trashed home and were eating a turkey sandwich he turned to me and said ‘I wonder what the poor people are doing today.’ I cocked my head a little to the side and then remembering the approximately twenty people or so that had come over to eat and the eight or so that had actually given to the dinner, that had we been forced to take up a collection to pay for it all, we would have been hard pressed to come up with much more than about twenty dollars. Of course it was a joke because we were the poor people, but I don’t think that there was one of us that day that were celebrating the harvest and the coming to this land that truly thought that we were the poor people.
“Eating turkey sandwiches,” I said finally, turning to him and laughing.
Remind me to tell you about a Christmas that I had there sometime Sena (wont you be my neighbor) more Raviolis, Walter, a great liqueur, late night baking and a four in the morning phone call to my parents and my brother.
So, to you my friends, family, countrymen embrace the harvest, those that grew it and be thankful for the freedoms that we have. Raise your glass in remembrance of those that struggled to get here, and to those that struggled to make this country a place for freedoms.