From “A Buick in the Kitchen”
The festive spirit has claimed our house. The floors are polished. The rugs and upholstery have been cleansed of the malfeasances of dogs and cats. Friends will be joining us at the holiday table, and I have risen in darkness to stuff and bake the Thanksgiving opossum.
Probably there will be snide comments. Our friends are not the kind of people who hide their ill will under a bushel.
“What’s that thing on the platter?”
“It’s the Thanksgiving possum,” I will reply evenly, as I carve. “Light meat or dark?”
A mutter of outrage will pass among them.
“Is this some kind of joke? We’re supposed to get turkey. It’s a national tradition.”
“Since the Pilgrims. The Indians brought the Pilgrims a turkey.”
“Listen,” I will tell them, “the Pilgrims were a bunch of losers, down on their luck. Winter was coming on and they were hungry. Then the Indians showed up with some food.”
“With a turkey.”
“OK, so it was a turkey. But it could have been anything. Some days the Indians had buffalo tongue. Other times it was porcupine or bear meat. That day they just happened to have a turkey. Big deal!”
“Are you implying that Turkey Day is an empty tradition?”
“I am only saying that if the Indians had come with a possum, the Pilgrims — who were a sorry, ragtag outfit — would have been mighty glad to get it. They would have smacked their lips and declared that henceforth, forever, the last Thursday in November would be known as Possum Day. People would stand in line at the supermarket to get their Butterball possums.”
“You got that thing at a store?”
“No, it was a gift.”
“From an Indian?”
“A gift of luck. I got it yesterday afternoon on Bannister Road with my right front tire, a glancing blow. It was hardly even bruised.”
The guests will sit with their clenched fists on the table beside their plates, knives and forks sticking straight up from their fists. They will make no effort to hide their disappointment.
“The last time we came for Thanksgiving you had a turkey.”
“That was the last time. Before they went off half-cocked to the New World to starve as Pilgrims, the Pilgrims sat around their cozy fireplaces in London and ate plum pudding. Things change. Now I am a man in the twilight of his powers, with two daughters still to put through college, and I am a ragtag Pilgrim who takes what he is given. If a turkey had crossed the road yesterday, we would have had turkey. What I was given, however, was a possum. We will eat it together in fellowship and gratitude.”
The drumming of the handles of their knives and forks on the table will make an awful racket.
“For the blessings of this day,” my daughters will intone reverently. “And for the blessings of financial aid and federal student loans that may yet be received ... ”
Shamed to silence, our guests will stare at the main course.
“Here we are, all together once more!” I will sing out heartily. “The harvest is in. The frost is on the punkin and the corn is in the shock.”
They will look back at me with gray, flat faces.
“So speak up now,” I will tell them again, “light meat or dark?”