Roger Marolt: They came for religious freedom, but I think they stayed for the leftovers
There’s not much that can beat Thanksgiving as a kid in a ski town.
Christmas was the headline grabber, so I think I took turkey day for granted way back when. As they say, we don’t fully appreciate what we have until it is gone; I’m talking about our youth in particular.
Thanksgiving might still be my favorite holiday. It’s that or Fourth of July. Independence Day has the long summer daylight and warm weather going for it, while Thanksgiving has early season skiing with family and friends gathered afterward in a more concentrated, indoor area conducive to wider participation in interesting and intense conversations (i.e. arguing). You definitely get more scuttlebutt over turkey and all the fixins served on the expanded dining room table than you do between bites of grilled hot dogs while sitting in lawn chairs watching the kids play Jarts (lawn darts).
The things both holidays have in common are no gifts. Ironically, that’s the best gift of all. There’s nothing more pressure-packed than trying to come up with the perfect present for someone that is something they would never buy for themselves (surprise!), only to discover by the look on their faces when they open it that the reason they would never have bought it for themselves is because it is actually a thing they would never want. Hindsight is all too clear in the gift giving game and that is what hurts the most.
A nice bottle of wine or maybe a side dish the hosts ask you to bring are nice to show up with, but neither requires a trip to the mall or an online jungle tour to produce. A salad is satisfying to people who have everything. Simple is best. No salad that takes more than 10 minutes to make is worth eating. If you can’t toss the salad with three flips of the tongs, you have too much junk in it. Nobody would complain about just lettuce, tomatoes and croutons. You can easily pick out the tomatoes if you don’t like them. That’s not a chef’s tip. It’s advice from an experienced eater.
Thanksgiving for mountain kids is simply the best. Adults may get excited for the official opening day of skiing, but for kids it is really something special. I can’t explain it except to tell you that, from experience, it is magical. I think the magic of it lasts until about the time you become responsible for shoveling the walks, paying the utility bills and after you outgrow tunneling through snow banks. It’s a shame we all do.
I remember having a hard time sleeping before the first day of skiing. I can’t recall the last time that happened. You have turned the corner onto the one-way street to adulthood when you get a bout of insomnia worrying about getting the turkey in the oven early enough or wondering if you have enough eggnog.
We kids would ski from the opening bell until the last lift up each day of the four-day weekend. We spent Thanksgiving night stuffed in front of the tube watching the Dallas Cowboys play someone and could not have cared less about the football game, except for the tradition of having it in the background while we moved from the dinning room to the living room with huge slices of pumpkin pie hidden somewhere beneath a cornice of Cool Whip and washed down with a glass of apple cider over ice.
It is hard to say whether the droning voices from the football game or the adults continuing to talk over steaming cups of Sanka made us so sleepy. As soon as we found out what tryptophan was, we blamed that. What we always resisted was admitting that a long day on the slopes wore us out. Adults always exaggerate the value of a good night’s sleep — another way to tell if you are one.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday we had dinners at dusk, lots of times still in our long underwear after skiing. That tradition was what gave leftovers a good name — a real casual treat! Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green beans with mushroom soup poured all over tastes better each time you warm them up again. This was when I learned to love cranberries. Cranberry sauce is to stuffing what frosting is to cake. And the gravy! My great uncle Steve used to say, “A man who doesn’t like gravy ain’t hardly human.” He also used to tell us that his horse could have pulled the devil out of hell if you could have hooked a rope to him. Flavor doesn’t only come from the food on Thanksgiving.
Then one day someone thought I was old enough to do the dishes. I probably started out drying things and putting them away, but that was a short transition into actual pearl diving. This didn’t make me stop loving Thanksgiving. It just made the day feel longer. I assumed longer meant better when it came to holidays, but that isn’t necessarily the case. It just depends whose helping you.
Roger Marolt loves it all except for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television. He’s watched it many times and still doesn’t see the attraction. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.