Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Weird But Thankful: The Lazy-Susan Years

Folks celebrate Thanksgiving in alot of ways. Most get together with family or friends and share the traditional meal of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Others dispense with slaving over a hot stove for hours and eat-out at a local restaurant. That, of course, is for normal people. My immediate family when I was growing up... well, we tended to celebrate in a slightly different way.

Not that we were strange to the extreme. The Kelly family -- mom, dad, brother, and myself -- was not your run-of-mill clan. We were a quiet and introverted bunch who kept mostly to ourselves. Oh, we were friendly to our neighbors and all. We went to church on Sunday morning and paid our taxes on time. We just had a peculiar way about us. And that usually extended to our celebrating of the holidays as well.

For the most part, we never celebrated Thanksgiving in the traditional way. We never headed off to Granny's house for the traditional holiday meal. My mother's side of the family were poor folks with scarcely enough to feed themselves, let alone a pack of relatives with a ravenous appetite. My father's side of the family was even more peculiar than we were. Grandma and Grandpa Kelly never celebrated any holidays that I could remember, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. No pumpkin pie or Christmas tree was to be found in that little four-room house in the rural town of Theta. Just the cloying smell of moth balls, endless copies of Tennessee Farmer lying about, and a furnace cranked up a few degrees shy of the surface temperature of the Sun.

So we concocted our own private Thanksgiving feast. This took place mainly between the years of 1968 and 1974, and involved a bygone device that many have completely forgotten. A wonderful wheel-like smorgasbord popular in the eras of the Johnson and Nixon administrations. The party on a turntable... the incredible Lazy-Susan.

I remember that my mother had acquired one around the spring of '68, whether as a birthday gift or a door prize at a Tupperware party, I have no earthly idea. I just remember that it showed up in the center of our kitchen table one night at suppertime. I don't believe my father was all that impressed with Mama's Lazy-Susan (he was a meat and potatoes man!) but my brother and I thought it was pretty danged cool. We used it a few times at suppertime, when we were having sandwiches and chips and such. Then, that November, Mama asked us boys what we wanted for our Thanksgiving meal. I looked at my brother Kevin and he looked at me and, in unison, we said "The Lazy-Susan! You know, with all kinds of snacks and stuff!" It seemed like a good idea to us all... a Thanksgiving meal without all the fuss and bother. My father sort of frowned upon the notion, but alas, he was outvoted three-to-one.

The Lazy-Susan itself was a marvel of technological design. A rotating base with a three-tiered selection of matching porcelain recepticles, ending in a large, covered dip bowl at the very top. Mama stocked the Lazy-Susan with all kinds of neat stuff... things we never ate as part of our regular menu. The lower tier sported finger sandwiches made of white bread and potted meat or pimento cheese, as well as potato chips or Fritos. The second tier contained mixed nuts, Chex mix, M&Ms, and those little pillow-shaped mints that were so popular at parties and weddings back then. The top tier with its dip bowl contained French onion dip, for the chips on the lower landing. It was fun to spin the Lazy-Susan back and forth, helping ourselves to the myrid of treats that it offered us.

Around the time that Nixon left office, the novelty of the Lazy-Susan wore off and we returned to traditional Thankgiving fare. Our Lazy-Susan was retired to an upper shelf of the kitchen cabinet, never to thrill and wheel again. I have no idea whatever happened to the thing. Perhaps, while we slept, my father spirited it away in a trash bag and hauled it off to the town dump with a mischevious grin on his face and a muttering of "Good riddence!" on his lips.

These days I spend my Thanksgiving at my in-law's house, enjoying the traditional meal of roast turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole (you can't have too many varieties of taters down here in Tennessee!), macaroni and cheese, shoe-peg corn, and pecan pie (or pumpkin pie, if you so desire). Add gallon after gallon of sweet tea and you have a Thanksgiving feast a Southerner can really sink his teeth into!

But even now, I still have fond memories of that snack-laden Lazy Susan that reeled off the mileage in the center of our dining room table on Thanksgiving Day. That was a recipe my parents used over and over again during the course of my childhood. The simple but appealing equation of Weirdness + Nonconformity= Fun with a capital F. And for that, I feel pretty dadgummed lucky.

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