Thanksgiving and a tale of two McRibs

Thanksgiving.  Truly the most genuine holidays of em’ all.  It leaves you in a peaceful mood and can even make the most deplorable among us rediscover our caring side.  For a day, you forget about all of the stresses created from the world around you–work, politics, football… well, maybe everything, but the point is that you remember the things that make life so great in the first place, and set aside what doesn’t matter, contrary to popular sentiment.  It’s part of what makes the Fall such a wonderful season; the coziness of sitting near a fire sipping on a fine cocktail or one of the many seasonal beers that are cool to the taste and warming to the spirit; watching women pile on the layers, going from there scantily clad summer attire to a more conservative autumn overcoat with stylish leggings (I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about girls dressed appropriately for the colder weather that’s kind of a turn on); and possibly the greatest of all is the line of holidays, one after another, starting with Halloween and ending with Christmas, each one a stepping stone of anticipation for the next!  It’s a continuous blast of excitement with all of the parties, food, shopping, and traditions; it’s what I look forward to each and every year.

Although all of the holidays are great in their own special way, Thanksgiving stands out far and above the rest of them.  Let’s start with Halloween.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Halloween.  It’s the one time of year that it’s socially acceptable for me to dress like a freak and for girls to dress provocatively.  In fact, the more out of control your costume is, the more praise you get, and this Halloween was no different.  My Kanye West outfit was spot-on (aside from painting my face black, a decision that was against Ben Woodward’s wishes and but made after some much appreciated consultation from my snarky minority friend Sharath), and compliments were flying left and right–a leather on leather on leather combination with a couple of gold chains and some rockin’ high-tops, the leather pants being the most on point.  I didn’t even have to go to the S&M shop (Ben Woodward’s favorite store) to find them either, thanks to my sister’s keen eye and extensive knowledge of fashion websites!  Unfortunately though, I ripped them two weeks later (a little piece of advice: don’t play basketball in leather pants.)

 

But let’s be honest with ourselves, what is Halloween but a bunch of kids going house-to-house begging for candy from a bunch of strangers?  “TRICK OR TREAT!” they scream in your face, holding out baskets full of processed sugar bars and pleading for more like a bunch of mendicants.  So just because you come to my house dressed in a costume, you’re entitled to the goods that I worked hard for?  And if I don’t surrender, you get to play a trick on me, like TPing my house?  Please.  Halloween sounds like another front for socialism if you ask me.  The Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves every year on October 31st.

And lets take a look at Christmas and face the hard facts.  The thing that makes Christmas awesome is that we get free stuff.  But at what cost parents?  Because of our selfish desires, we allow our children to sit on an old fat dude’s lap while he ho ho ho’s and asks them what toys they want.  And then we look forward to him dressing in his red suit and breaking into our houses, sneaking around while the kids are sleeping and leaving them presents, Michael Jackson style.

Hello!  Do you see anything wrong with this picture!?!?  And that’s before he eats all of our cookies and drinks our milk too!

Sure, New Years is a big party, but in the end, your left with that depressing feeling of inevitable aging mixed with at least three months of terrible, endearing weather that drags on, and on, and on.  If your football team wins the Super Bowl, then maybe you end up with a winter that’s a step above mediocre, but with 32 teams in the NFL, the odds are stacked against you, and you’re left with even more disappointment that sinks you into the dark crevices of winter.

After months of the grueling cold, Easter rolls around, which means the weather gets nicer, but at the same time, life springs back into action and all the critters come back into play, terrorizing the neighborhood with glee, with one particular rodent who always seems to make his way into our homes, leaving egg droppings all over the place.  One of these Easters I’m going to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or something and accidently step on the little turd who’s running about my house unabated.

“What the heck man, you stomped the Easter Bunny!”  Hey, I’m sorry, but he came out of nowhere!  He scared the crap out of me!  Easter’s ruined, forever and ever.

Heck, there are even flaws with my favorite holiday, the 4th of July, the day we celebrate the valiant fight and struggle to gain our independence and become the greatest nation in the world.  It’s a wonderful day of reflection and gratitude, but I’d be lying if I don’t use it as an excuse to drink beer and light off a bunch of fireworks while screaming “MERICA” at the top of my lungs.  It’s the one-day where I’m allowed to do really dangerous (and stupid) things while being hailed as patriotic!  And trust me, I take full advantage of the opportunity every year.

fireworks

Fourth of July 2014

With Thanksgiving however, there’s no BS, no facades involved, just family and friends gathered around a feast to giving thanks for the gifts we’ve received in our lives.  Going back to its origins, it’s about a group of people after many harsh winters and an ongoing struggle to survive in a new world, finally having an abundance of food for one season, and deciding to share it with another group of people who taught them the fundamentals of survival.

And we continue the tradition today–simple as that.  Taking time to reflect even with all the prepped up stresses that come along with life.  We step back for a moment and say, “Hey, we really have it pretty good, and our blessed with what’s all ready around us, most of which we take for granted day in and day out.  Let’s give thanks for this and share our blessings.”

It is a time for great company and lasting tradition, with each family having their own unique rituals.  It could be as simple as getting together for a great turkey bowl battle with the pigskin, or a round of “The Settler of Catan,” which leaves all but one person (the winner) in a sour mood after it’s all said in done.  There is one tradition however that I share with my dad that has been somewhat of an untold secret for some time now.  It’s not a planned out tradition by any means, but something that coincidently reoccurs every year, and I believe it’s time to let this secret come to surface, for the truth will always set you free.

Many years ago at our residence near the Quail Ridge golf course in the Lewis Clark Valley, the Andrews family was working hard preparing for the big meal.  My mother slaved away in the kitchen while my sisters cleaned and the men were on stand-by, awaiting orders.  Thanksgiving dinner always starts around 3:00 PM in our family, making it difficult to plan your meals for the day.  Because of the awkward dinner time, I usually eat a very light breakfast so I can take advantage of stuffing myself with turkey, gravy, and the rest of the fixings to the fullest extent, and lunch is skipped for that very same reason, because hey, no sense eating lunch when you’re going to eat dinner in an hour or two anyway.  The closer you get to that 3:00 PM mark however, the more you suffer and grow delusional from the lack of food inside your body.  Even with all of the agony I was facing that Thanksgiving from an absence of food, I powered through the hallucinations that follow starvation, for a vision of me sitting in a food coma watching holiday movies and football would be well worth the wait.

Illusions of grandeur filled my mind with the multitude of flavors that would eventually enter my mouth, drawing me into a deep trance.  The juicy deep fried turkey that Bob would bring over, my mother’s stuffing, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside and blended with a fruit concoction of apples and cranberries that tastes so good that you could eat just that alone and be satisfied.  Add the mashed potatoes smothered in butter and gravy, A bowl of yams topped with toasted marshmallows, and pumpkin pie with a side of vanilla bean ice cream and you’re screaming for a beautiful disaster where the end result is a gluttonous gathering of humans parked in a living room unable to move for the end of the world from the dense mass inside their bodies.  What a great day this was going to be…

“Zack, Zack…  Snap out of it,” a voice shot out followed by a snap of the fingers across the face, giving me a bit of a startle.  “Your mother needs some spices from the store, lets go,” my father barked.  I obediently followed.  And just like that, reality set back in, and the pain of perpetual hunger rose again.

Not much was said in the car ride, or inside Albertsons for that matter, one of the few stores still open on the holiday.  I’m pretty sure our minds were on sync, delusional from the missing smorgasbord of turkey byproducts that should have been consumed by now, making Albertsons a quick in-and-out experience.  The sooner we got back to the house, the sooner Thanksgiving would be served, which without the missing ingredients, would delay dinner for at least another hour or two according to our calculations.

While walking back to the car I caught a glimpse of the McDonalds across the parking lot, one of the great all-time American staples with a giant sign out in the front that just slayed my digestive system.  “The McRib is back, and for a limited time only!”

The McRib:  The pinnacle of culinary excellence.  A superb blend of processed pork, a not too smoky but elegantly tangy bbq sauce slathered all over a slab of meat between two buns with a hefty serving of onions and pickles.  It’s as if God himself came down from the heavens and gave us a taste of what the afterlife will be like.  If Ayn Rand ever wrote a book about food, the McRib would be the equivalent of Galt’s Gulch.

I looked at my dad through my peripherals in an attempt to read his body language without being suspicious.  He just blankly stared at the empty parking lot ahead, not displaying any sign of emotion whatsoever.  The further we drove through the parking lot, the deeper the depression of missing out on a mouthful of flavorful explosion set in.  The odds are always against you in this situation, as learned from many occasions where my parents would drive us past fast food after karate class, giving us hope that a splash of kindness would result in a happy meal, but always being disappointed as we watched the big yellow arches fade away in the distance.

I wanted it so bad that I could taste it, but I just sat and kept my mouth shut, acting indifferent to the situation.  The whole ordeal was torturous, for my churning stomach left me in constant excruciating pain that was bound to last a long time, but there was no way I was going to risk looking disrespectful to my mothers cooking.  Hey, I ain’t gettin’ in trouble!  Better to live in pain for the next hour or two than to be given a harsh Bill O’Riely scolding while still experiencing the same pain.  So I just sat there and said nothing, wallowing in a sadness that could not be displayed.

Then, out of nowhere, when all hope had been lost, a chorus of angels sang the most beautiful words I may have ever hear in my entire life.  “Would you like to stop at McDonalds for a snack?” my father asked.  It was a miracle.  My body was freaking out inside, and I wanted to scream for joy at the top of my lungs.  However, I kept my composure, waited a few seconds as if I had to contemplate the decision.  I nodded my head and responded, “You know, I think I would,” with a grin of approval across my face.

“I’d like a McRib meal please,” order my dad.  “What would you like son?”

“You know, I think I’ll have a McRib meal as well…”

I don’t exactly remember the details of whether we ate in the parking lot, or if we drove home right away, but at a moment like this, you never forget the silent camaraderie of father and son sharing a meal together of this magnitude.  It was a coming of age moment, where he look at me and was damn proud I was his son, and I look at him and knew I would never trade him for any other dad in the world!  It’s as if the whole time, we were in sync and knew exactly what the other was thinking.  Kind of like a 6th sense that only a father and son duo can truly understand.  Just like the first time we shared a beer together, but better.

We entered the house with accomplishment written across our faces, having achieved the task that had been presented before us as we handed off the missing ingredients to my mother.  Our ailing hunger concerns had been satisfied for the time being, and nobody was of the wiser.  We were in the clear, and it was going to be a great Thanksgiving.

“Ok guys, time to eat,” echoed my mothers voice throughout the house a mere two minutes after we stepped through the door.

“Wait…  What???  That can’t be!  We just got home, and dinner wasn’t going to be ready, and McRibs in our bellies, and…  Oh no!”  I wasn’t hungry anymore!  The fantasy I had about gorging myself in food paradise… no longer existent.  I didn’t want any more turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, nothing, for satisfaction had already been attained.  We ruined Thanksgiving.  And my mother…  She was going to know!  She always knows when I eat McDonalds before dinner!  And right before Thanksgiving… We’re toast!

My father didn’t say a single word.  He acted naturally; as if he were experienced and knew exactly what to do…  act as if nothing had ever happened.   So I followed his lead act in a strict fashion as we made our way up the stairs to the dining room table…  Silent, as if nothing had ever happened.

He made no contact with me that whole dinner, and he didn’t have to.  It wasn’t worth the risk, and I would’ve done the same.  Besides, we both knew what each other was thinking and what had to be done.  It’s like a 6th sense between a father and son duo that only they can truly understand.

I did however study his every move, cautiously of course, in order to avoid any unnecessary suspicion.  He placed a variety of items on his plate in a strategic spread to give the illusion of having full meal even though the quantity of actual food compared to mere rations.  I followed suit, and we continued on behind enemy lines, just praying for survival.

Our operation was precise and going as planned, but even the most flawless of plans can never completely fool a mother.  She was beginning to catch on due to the slow pace of my father’s food consumption.

“Aren’t you going to have any more hun?”  She asked.  He just shook his head and moved his mouth like he was saying “Nah,” leading her to shrug her shoulders and retreat for the time being.  It bought us some time, but those tactics only work for so long.

The unrelenting attacks kept coming, and my dad kept fending them off in the same fashion with responses like “I’m going to save some room for dessert,” or “I’m watching my carbohydrate intake,” which is a valid statement since he’s a firm believer in the low-carb Atkins style diet.  The sad part was, due to our proximity, he was taking all the grunt of the assault, and I was getting off Scott-free.  As any great father would do, he took on the burden, sacrificing himself so his son could live another day on the lovely Earth.  But I knew this was going to get real ugly sooner or later.  My mom would break him, make him confess, and that would be the end of Thanksgiving as we knew it.  I couldn’t leave him hanging.  His actions were admirable, so much that I wouldn’t have traded him for any other dad.  I needed to do something to make him damn proud that I was his son.

I peaked around the room violently, my mind racing a mile a minute with ways to swing the battle favorably in our direction.  My dad had held out for as long as he could, but he couldn’t take it anymore.  He was about to crack.  Running out of time, I looked at our good friend Bob, one of the heavy hands at our church.  I know it’s taboo to bring up politics at the dinner table, especially during Thanksgiving, but we had run out of options.  The guy could sell you a bag full of dog crap and leave you walking away with a smile on your face as if you’d just won the lottery, he was that good.  I had to get him involved, somehow, someway.  I knew the risk that was involved and the possibility of a resulting backlash.  But this wasn’t about me.  This was about my old man.

“So Bob, I hear some of the new trustees at the church are clashing with the pastor these days?” The comment definitely caught my mother’s attention, along with everybody else’s at the dinner table.  I blurted it out of nowhere, and immediately I was shot with inappropriate looks, for the comment could be classified to some as out of line.  I felt a cloud of anxiety floating over us, as if I had just blown our cover, and not only was I going to get a scolding from my mom, but a “I’m disappointed” talk from my dad, both of which I would deserve if this didn’t pan out.  Heck, I didn’t even know if there was even any conflict with any of the trustees!  I was totally bluffing!  But what could I do?  I was desperate, and action needed to be taken, a Hail Mary of sorts.  So I waited for the seconds to pass by for Bob to respond, which seemed to last for minutes from my standpoint.

“Well, actually, there have been some issues, not with the trustees, but some of the youth leadership with certain methods they use for teaching the kids….” and that’s all it took.  The whole room was hooked!  Even my mother, gleeful to get all the dirt she could from one of the biggest political strong-arms in the church!  And it wasn’t just her.  All of us around the dinner table wanted a piece of the action, for nobody can resist digging into the dirty details of congregational dwellings, and who better to get information from than the man who knows everyone’s business.

Everybody wants to be on Bob’s side.  The man knows how to get things done, and if you’re on good terms with him, he’ll make your life a hell of a lot easier.  That’s the simple truth.  He’s not a shady guy or anything, but more of a natural leader, the Reagan type.  He doesn’t get involved in the dirty side of politics because he wants to, but because people come to him, desperate for his input.  He’ll tell you like it is, whether you like it or not, and he’ll fix any problem, even if it’s political suicide and it makes him look terrible.  He does it because it’s the right thing to do.  I swear he’d be destined for Senator someday, if only his heart wasn’t so damn righteous.  I know it was a dirty move on my part, but I had to get Bob going.  Sadly I’m ashamed to say, it wasn’t the first or last time I screwed him over on a holiday, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and my father and I needed a game-changer.

Pretty soon, we all forgot about Thanksgiving dinner, and were more intrigued on which Church high-schooler didn’t get accepted to which college, or which kid came home after curfew, who was giving the most money, who was causing a rukus, and on and on…  and that’s all it took.  It was finally over.  The focus on our dinner portions had diminished, and shortly after our political discussion that was oh so mesmerizing, we were in the living room playing catch phrase, two families enjoying each others company with laughter and excitement bouncing off the walls of the house.  We had cheated death, and we couldn’t believe it.  We saw it as nothing less than a subtle act of God.

Later that evening, my dad and I finally made eye contact once more.  No facial expressions were made, and no words had to be said, but there was a 6th sense going on between us.  We knew we had pulled it off, and for that instance, I knew that he was damn proud that I was his son, and I would never trade him for any other dad, and that’s the way it always will be.  I think it’s something only a father and son duo can truly understand.

That night, I was thankful for many things.  At the top of my list was getting away with barely touching Thanksgiving dinner and not receiving a paddling from my mom.  But looking back, I realize it wasn’t so much about that, but more so the adventure I shared with my father, and that something as cheap and silly as a McDonald’s McRib created a memory I will never forget for the rest of my life.

It’s funny how those small types of moments are the ones that stick out in our lives.  Whether it’s sharing a McRib with your father, belting out the tunes of Jewel at the top of your lungs with some boundary babes after a long and dirty excursion through the northern Minnesota wilderness, or watching a beautiful sunset while listening to a beautiful song after a long and frustrating day, even if some crackpot ultimately ruins the moment for you.  You get to stop time for that short moment and remind yourself that all the material things we obsess about, our clothes, gadgets, jobs; none of it matters in the grand scheme of the entire universe.  It makes you thankful for what you have and the people that care about you.  It’s a liberation that always puts a smile on your face, no matter what.

Over the years, it seemed that my dad and I would find an excuse to sneak out of the house on Thanksgiving, finding a way to pick up a McRib during the excursion.  For one, they’re mighty tasty, but they also remind us of that special moment many years ago when we bonded over the simple sandwich and had to work together to avoid punishment for our actions.  It helps us to reflect on the important things in life, which is maybe one of the reasons why I love that sandwich so much, and get all giddy like a little school girl whenever it reenters my life in the early parts of November.  And the funny thing is, we’ve never gotten in trouble for our pre-Thanksgiving meal… Ever! (Note: I believe my mom’s starting to catch on throughout many years of us disappearing for an hour every Thanksgiving, by setting out hors d’oeuvres right before the meal.  And of course after reading this, she’ll be on the defensive this year…  Big time!  We still find a way though.  We always do.)

Throughout the holiday season, there’s a lot of hectic commotion going on.  Whether it’s prepping for parties, or buying gifts, cooking dinner, and running about for God knows what, we tend to get side tracked and caught up in the moment, forgetting the reasons for why we celebrate, which is natural.  We’re all human for Denny’s sake!

But every now and then during all the madness, we come across a moment beyond our control, where time kind of just stops, and all we can do is observe and ponder among the ambiance.  If you happen to be lucky enough experience a moment like this during the Thanksgiving holiday, or any day for that matter, try to take a step back and reflect on your life and your surroundings.  You may just find yourself in one of those beautiful moments that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.  It’s in those moments that we’ll know what’s most important to us, and what we’re truly thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

-Grizzly Chadams

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