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March to a Different Drumstick

Let the holidays begin! Thump. CRASH! Ow, ow, owie!! That was the sound of drop-kicking the bathroom scale into the garage until January. Remind me next time not to kick it while wearing sandals.

Thanksgiving - a holiday to appreciate family, friends, love, elastic waistbands. Even as I write this, tears of nostalgia are flushing the crud from my keyboard. Four siblings and I are walking miracles! Why? We survived Mom's cooking.

Memories of mealtimes in the "good old days" may warm the heart, but actually eating my family's fare could perforate the esophagus. Granted, Mom had the task of feeding seven people, but by golly, she never let nutrition dampen her creativity.

She not only marched to her own drummer, she whirled our parade into a parallel universe, and transformed mealtime into an adventure - without the luggage or potty stops.

On holidays, Mom would shove a turkey the size of a Sumo wrestler into the oven, and murmur a prayer to Botulisma, the patron saint of cooks who should be banned from the kitchen. Did the baking chart call for five hours at 350 degrees? In Mom-math, that equaled 10 hours at 175.

One year the normally dim-witted family collie saved us from our annual Thanksgiving "flu." With only our welfare in mind, our Lassie wannabe left a trail of turkey bones and grease that led behind the sofa, where he had passed out, bloated and snoring. Good booooooy!

The four basic food groups in our universe were Canned, Frozen, Shiny, and Salty. For you now, a sampling of traditional favorites:

Appetizer. A block of yellow processed cheese, sweating beads of oil, hacked into pieces and skewered with tinseled toothpicks.

Soup. Hearty cream of mushroom. Really hearty, as in undiluted, straight from the can. Ladled over split hamburger buns on a cookie sheet, and broiled until you could peel off the glossy brown "skin."

Fish. Frozen, headless, boneless, breaded, from a box. AKA "fish sticks." Lined up and baked on cookie sheets. For company, Mom trimmed off the corners and positioned them as dorsal fins. But usually she just added some Tater Tots® - and we chowed down rows of exclamation marks!!!!!!!!

Classic tuna casserole. Layers of cream of mushroom soup, oil-packed tuna, canned peas and potato chips. Too salty? Not to worry, because Mom often bleached our Melmac® dishes, leaving a permanent chemical flavor.

Instant potatoes topped with melted "oleo" - you remember, the lard sold with packets of yellow coloring? Served with mom's universal tool - an ice cream scooper.

"Steak." Cheap cuts of something red, slathered with the yellowed lard and broiled on cookie sheets until they resembled tiny Buster Brown shoes.

Mexican food! Canned Spanish rice dumped into cream of tomato soup, simmered until scorched on the bottom. Augmented with a scoopful of leftover tuna casserole.

And Italian! Bright orange goop straight from spaghetti cans the size of wastebaskets. A chain smoker whose mind often sailed for distant horizons, Mom flicked her ashes and burnt matches into any open pans on the stove. God knows we needed the fiber. And the natural filtration properties of carbon no doubt protected us from any toxins in the cheap lime soda we drank at every meal.

Want garlic bread? Try hot dog buns, sprayed with butter-flavored oil and coated with garlic salt. Broiled on cookie sheets until burnt, the carbon masking any taste of fish sticks and bleach.

I've been cooking for myself, oh, a few months now, and enjoy a plethora of normal, tasty dishes. This Thanksgiving, I'll have friends over for tuna-sauerkraut nachos. Canned, shiny and salty in every bite!

And in Mom's memory, I'll bake everything on cookie sheets and serve with an ice cream scooper. 'Twill be a simple celebration of gratitude for my parents' love and the many blessings I've inherited, such as an endless imagination from Mom.

And from Dad, an iron stomach.

Copyright © 2007 Mary Tompsett

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