I’m a turkey baby. Born three days before Thanksgiving, I’ve always had a strange relationship with the holiday. When I was a kid, having my birthday so close to a national holiday meant two seemingly contradictory things–my birthday “cake” would inevitably be a pumpkin pie and there’d be no party with school chums. Really, the latter was a blessing, given that, being a solitary, awkward, chunky child, I didn’t really have friends. Double blessing, actually, as I got to have more of that pumpkin pie to my lonely, craving self.
Course our national nostalgia gives Thanksgiving a much more positive spin, which leads to an establishment like The Original Turkey, named, perhaps, for some platonic bird who flapped across the Appalachians chased by Ben Franklin with a hatchet. You know, don’t you?, that Thanksgiving only became a national holiday in 1863, in an ill-fated attempt by President Lincoln to create a sense of unity in the nation. At The Original Turkey unity is had in spades. This past weekend, on a long line of nearly all women, I waited patiently for a turkey sandwich, though platters of white meat and sides are available as well. No secessionary impulses here. Instead we marched quiescently together to the front of the line, a health conscious army battalion. Huge turkey breasts steamed and dripped as a man deftly peeled their reddened skins off, tossing them into what I can only assume was a bucket full of such discarded pelts. Here’s a tip, incipient Buffalo Bills–if you’re looking for a place to get some material to sew together a turkey-skin costume, The Original Turkey is the place to go.
Anthropologist Lucy Long coined the term “culinary tourism” to describe the use of food to experience a different identity, time, ethnicity or race. Given its associations with family, home and childhood, the Original Turkey must be playing a kind of touristic game. The offerings are pure Thanksgiving (with a few hollow bones thrown to contemporary tastes–a turkey quesadilla or turkey cheesesteak, for example, those these didn’t seem very popular). Cranberry sauce and stuffing, all year round.
But, aside from certain outlier families in the Midwest, who actually enjoys a pleasant family Thanksgiving? Isn’t it all loneliness or bickering, muttered ill-will or drunken rants? When I finally got my order–a turkey and cranberry sandwich with spicy mustard on whole wheat–I realized that maybe that’s the point. The nostalgia isn’t for the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, although my sandwich was damn near Rockwellian in its rosy perfection, with moist turkey, gently seasoned, and wheat bread so soft it clung to the roof of my mouth like cotton candy. Complaining about Thanksgiving, and family, is the national pastime, even more than post-prandial napping, or coronary infarctions. The food, when it’s good, like at The Original Turkey, can’t be denied. It’s satisfying and filling, a comfort in the midst of domestic chaos. The Original Turkey is, such a comfort, too, in the midst of our outward lives.
Recommended: turkey, of course.