A Place, a Time, a Memory
The Meaning of Thanksgiving
Surly Earl Tackles the TurkeyEarl Barnes, age 75, is the crustiest of curmudgeons, and the father of my pals Diane Winslow (owner of It's About Thyme Nursery), Jeffrey Barnes (woodwind player extraordinaire of Brave Combo), and Lynn Barnes (doctor and pathologist). Each Turkey Day, after festivities at my Mom's house in North Austin, I head for the Winslow domicile near Manchaca for phase two of the groaning board, and to chow down on Earl's famous roast turkey.
Every Thanksgiving, Earl shines his most bright, for it's on Thanksgiving that Earl makes the ultimate sacrifice -- he lovingly cooks the turkey for the Winslow clan's feast, and Earl hates turkey. And oddly enough, for someone who is as devoted to the culinary arts as Earl, he rarely even eats any of his own incredible food on Thanksgiving Day. Nothing. Not even a bite. Earl lives to cook, and it's something at which he excels. A man would have to be brain dead or a complete moron to pass up a spread that Earl had anything to do with.
Earl's turkey-cooking day begins very early, way before sunup, with the ritual seasoning of the huge bird's carcass. And an integral part of that ritual is the big bottomless glass of Bourbon & 7 that's always within arm's reach. Not to mention the whistling and the taped tunes of Chopin at mega volume that accompany the process. Earl loves Chopin, and he whistles like a nightingale. Surprising, since he's deaf as a doorpost and wears a hearing aid (but make the slightest smartass comment, and he can hear you from blocks away).
Earl is very opinionated about most anything and everything. At least every fourth or fifth word from his pie hole would offend somebody, somewhere. He cusses more than Eminem, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg all piled together, hates Republicans, organized religion, Beaumont, and cranberries in cans, and he has no hesitation about letting anyone within earshot know about it.
And he's especially vociferous about what constitutes the proper Turkey Day feast. Roast turkey's a given, but dynamite dressing is never made with cornbread or oysters. It can only be made with white bread, preferably homemade. Only real cranberries go into Earl's exquisite relish, and every turkey meal must include Earl's famous creamed lima beans. Creamed lima beans: strange concept, great taste.
I've been fortunate enough to bump into Earl at the local Albertson's while shopping for the feast, and it's a stone-cold hoot. He prowls the aisles with the nervous self-assurance of a caged lion, and knows exactly what he's after and its precise location. Woe be the confused consumer that gets in his way if he's on his mission. And anyone around him will get an earful about the inadequacies of the store's staff should there be a wait at the checkout registers. And don't dare get him started about the relative merits or misfortunes of shopping at HEB.
But enough about Earl's social graces, or lack thereof. Let's get back to the food and the bizarrely odd occurrence at the Winslows' last turkey repast. Everything was grooving along in a mellow manner, with the turkey and the bread dressing at the top of their game, and Myrth Robinson, Diane's 93-year-old granny, had made her usual superlative deviled eggs and cole slaw. Earl's saintly wife Nancy brought her incredible pies and cookies, and of course, Earl had made his requisite raisin-and-apple pie.
I had gotten there a touch late, had immediately noticed something amiss, and it was centered squarely on Earl. He was in his usual spot, at the head of the table, and he was working on what appeared to be the latest in a long line of Bourbon & 7s. But there, right smack in front of Earl, was a plate. And on that plate was every smattering of the Turkey Day feast. And Earl was eating! It was such a rare occurrence that we immediately assigned mystical properties and portents to its occurrence. It had to be a sign of good luck and prosperity in the coming year, and for both me, and the rest of the group, it has been.
I'll be there again this year for the proper turkey feast, as defined by his Earlness, and we now all realize that the fate of the group is somehow cosmically connected to Earl Barnes' appetite and the level of his blood sugar. With any luck at all, Earl will be toasted on Bourbon & 7s, and ready to tie on the feedbag, and the good fortune of the family will be assured for yet another year.