Before we buttered our first roll, before the glasses were filled, before we had a chance to say grace, my mother set down the platter of turkey and announced: “Everybody—save the neck for Dad.”
There was a pause as our eyes connected. It was the only time the six of us kids had ever been in complete agreement. Mom might as well have instructed us to save him the eyeball.
Recently I read a story about vultures and the disgusting things they eat, things that would poison a human. When vultures pick over a dead carcass, they skip the neck.
Normally, it was fun to watch Dad eat, because he always had a tiny bit of corn stuck on his chin—even if we weren’t having corn. But the thought of him baring his false teeth, tugging away at some gristly rope to tear off a stretchy morsel of purple meat like Tom Hanks eating the little baby ear of corn in Big? No thanks.
To be fair, I’ve never tasted turkey neck. I’ve never even seen one. Store-bought turkeys don’t come with necks anymore.
A few random organs come neatly gift-wrapped and nestled inside the bird—probably not from that bird originally, but people do feel they’re owed some organs to throw away. But there has been no outcry at the absence of a neck.
Turkey itself is probably on its last legs, so to speak. I heard a lot last year, “I just don’t like turkey.” It had never occurred to me that liking turkey was an option at Thanksgiving.
A lot of cooks wouldn’t care if we skipped the turkey. Thanksgiving is the only time most of us handle a dead body bigger than a three-year-old.
Party food stopped making sense about the time pioneers stopped wearing buckles on their hats. Stuffing, for example, requires stale bread, which we don’t have anymore. Bread no longer goes stale because it is no longer made out of food. I bought a loaf of raisin bread last March, and by October it was still good. Even mold won’t eat it.
To make stale bread, you have to drive around in your car hanging it out the window. Or be a real American: go buy stale bread at the store. You can buy a can of stale bread crumbs for only three times the cost of fresh bread.
Valentine’s Day has the best food. Any menu is fine, really, as long as it includes chocolate. The problem is that the Valentine’s Day dinner isn’t followed by a football game on TV. After steak and seafood in a rich butter sauce with a bottle of wine, finished with chocolate mousse and a nice port, you are expected to be romantic.
The opposite of good holiday food is St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day food is the reason the Irish ran away from Ireland.
On Mardi Gras I do oyster shots, which are raw oysters dunked in cocktail sauce and vodka. With enough cocktail sauce and vodka, I could eat boogers—which is about the same as oysters.
I respect Passover, the only holiday where food is supposed to be miserable.
On Cinco de Mayo we celebrate the Mexican victory over France in the Battle of Puebla by eating food from Texas.
Hot dogs on the 4th of July taste good mostly because we bury them in cheese, sauerkraut, relish and mustard. You could probably leave out the dog and not miss it. Made of ground ears and lips and looking like wet toilet paper dyed zombie pink, we know it’s not really food, but it’s better than a bun full of neck.
Hot dogs would be gray, except we dye them with cochineal, which is made from crushed beetles boiled in ammonia. But still, that’s better than gray meat.
In my family, Chex Mix is served at every holiday. Chex Mix is mostly butter, Worcestershire sauce and seasoned salt. Seasoned salt is salt salted with salt. A salt lick has less salt than seasoned salt. Seasoned salt has more salt than salt.
Tastes evolve as we age. I used to beg Mom for Wonder bread. Now I despise it. I used to gag over sauerkraut. Now my mouth waters at the thought of it. As I grow more and more to look like my father, I fear that someday, some Thanksgiving, I’m going to blurt out, “Hey—don’t touch that neck!”