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Thursday, November 23, 2017

In Other Words: A Thanksgiving Memory About Geese and Other Peculiar Things

Geese sunning themselves on our shore. They are safe.
The geese arrived about about two weeks before Thanksgiving. Dad devised a temporary pen for them in the old garage behind the house. The birds were huge to my 10 year old eyes. They were fearful and fascinating.  The birds squawked when we toss feed to them. Then they charged us because we still held some more feeding our little hands. I wasn’t too particularly fond of these birds.

The odor of the garage became more, I don’t know, gamey. I couldn’t smell the lumber that dad kept there for his carpentry projects or the oily lawnmower or musty boxes of holiday decoration. Its function had changed. It was now a barn. A barn in the heart of the city. A barn in the middle of a neighborhood.
What did I know about raising geese? Nothing.
What did my father know about raising geese? Nothing.
What did anyone in the neighborhood know about raising geese? Nothing.
But that didn’t stop my father.
You see, these geese were going to be Thanksgiving dinner.

But before you think my father was some kind of kook - and perhaps he was - you have to know that the neighborhood was full of eccentrics. One neighbor couple had almost 50 cats. She called them her “babies.” Another neighbor had an alligator, a boa constrictor, and an exotic parrot and he would bring them all outside on warm days much to the delighted fear of us children. And another neighbor has a pet monkey - an animal that often got loose and ran along soiling full clotheslines trying to escape into the city jungle. So a garage with a couple of geese seemed pretty tame by those standards.

We became the new attraction for the street. A destination point. Every day kids stopped by to see the geese and they always asked the same question - “What are you going to do with those geese?”  And Dad always replied, “Eat them.”

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A couple of days before the holiday, Dad tied a section of clothesline rope to them and took them for a walk up the street toward the local park. He became an instant Pied Piper. A gaggle of kids appeared. They followed up and then the street. The geese and their human goslings all in a row. The gosling squawk went something like this.
“How do you kill them?”
“How do you get the fathers off?”
“Do you cook them with the feathers?”
“Can I have some feathers?”
“What’s it taste like?”
“Did you name them?”
“Can I pet one?”
“Will it bite?”

And on and on. Dad was clearly pleased by the attention. He was the talk of the neighborhood. “You know, Charlie has a couple of geese in his garage that he plans to eat on Thanksgiving” was the common conversational thread. and it went on from there.

News spread quickly when it was time to slaughter the geese. A flock of kids formed a semicircle around the old oak trees stump next to the garage.  Dad sharpened a hatchet. A dark silence appeared as Dad brought the first goose to the chopping block.  I could hear people gulp their fear. Hearts pounded.
Dad stretched to neck over the stump, quickly raised the hatchet, and with intense speed and strength he brought the blade down. As Dad raised the hatchet, the hands of kids rose to cover their eyes.  But then two fingers spread so one eye could examine the carnage while the hand covered the other eye for safety’s sake.  Thwack! The sound reverberated through the garage, across the ravine in the back yard where the echo lived, and through our minds.

Blood squirted out into the yard and down the stump. Dad tied the feet together and hung the bird upside down on the garage door. The rest of the blood would have to drain before the next step in the recipe.

The scene replayed with the second bird, but with resistance. Dad had to chop twice.

Kids turned away and walked home. The excitement had turned dark and even solemn. They left the sacrificial stump altar to go home. The neighborhood was quiet.

Skip forward a few steps. My job was to pluck remaining feathers. Dad handed he a pair of pliers and said, “Make sure you pluck every feather, d’ya hear?” I heard even though I didn’t want to. But I pulled every leftover feather from both birds. Mom prepared them, cooked them, and presented them with the rest of the Thanksgiving feast.

I had a hard time eating that goose. It was my first time to follow food through the process. Before that, I guess, I thought food came from the store.  The bird was oily, gamey, tough. I really didn’t want to eat it. Thank goodness Mom said, “This isn’t very good.” That gave us five children permission to push the bird to the outside of the plate. Besides, we lived for pumpkin pie.

Dad, on the other hand, seems to savor the moment. Whether he ate more because he thought it was good or if he wanted to follow this project to the end I will never know.

Even though I long perceived this as a disastrous holiday, it was a Thanksgiving that I am now grateful for. Dad provided us with food and an adventure and a lesson - that is if you don’t try, you never know.  It is now a part of family legend. But I still can’t bring myself to eat a goose.

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