Thanksgiving has a pretty well-established routine around my house. There has been minimal variation in it for about thirty years. My wife is a night shift nurse who typically works on or around holidays, so the ritual is that I cook and the family eats. Some of you might favor the argument that this is a pretty awful deal for me. But I am delighted with our arrangement. I love the stability. We could go so far as to say I am Thankful for it.

I vastly prefer my routine to the madcap carrying on of the 1960s on Boston’s Beacon Hill when, while interesting, Thanksgiving could be a madcap exploration of the bizarre. Or the later staid experiences along the coast of Maine, where Thanksgiving was a somber affair under the stewardship of the Cap’n – my first father-in-law. The former experiences were one crazed nutty experience after the other, and the latter was its serious reflection in a strange mirror.

Things didn’t settle in until I married my wonderful night shift nurse, and we began to create stability out of the chaos.

A type of lotto game originated among Chinese working in the gold fields called Packapoo Ticket. The game was popular from Australian Gold workings to California. Twenty Chinese characters are on each card, each a potential winner or loser. But, of course, only the creator of the pack of tickets knows the winning character. There is a lot to be said about excitement in life. And a lot to be said for new experiences. But life as an ongoing Lotto game wears on you.

So I am about to prep the birdie, make the stuffing, and get the sweet potatoes ready. Happy Thanksgiving.

The Great Turkey Piñata

Over the years, I’ve seen some funny stuff done to Thanksgiving turkeys. Big birds with extra legs “grafted” on, toy aliens breaking through the breasts of the turkey, and birds with potent marijuana rubs. Delivered to the table for carving, these holiday turkeys distract from anything that might have been done to side dishes.

All these thanksgiving turkeys were spectacular, yes, but safe. I recall one Thanksgiving in the sixties when the turkey was weird and almost lethal.

To start with it has to be remarked that holidays were not big at the Folkie Palace. Most habitues went home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, so there was usually only a cadre on hand who couldn’t afford the trip, were unwelcome at home, or had other pressing reasons to stay on Beacon Hill. The principal winter holiday was New Year, and the less said about that, the better. Not that many of our recollections of those blowouts were very clear.

However, it looked like we’d have a pretty full house in one year. I was unwelcome at home after a fight with both parents. One of my friends had moved back in due to marital problems, and most of the other regulars similarly had reasons that they’d be around. This encouraged our erstwhile chef and sometimes spiritual leader, the Monk, to plan a great blowout of a feast. Wishing to involve as many of the residents of our little end of Grove Street as possible, he thought big. Yes, there’d be an incredible dinner, but with a crew of our “experts in spectacle,” the plan was to make an impressive thanksgiving display.

The idea developed was a gigantic turkey piñata filled with candy for the neighbors, their kids, and passersby. For days we mulched newspaper, smeared and mixed white glue, and molded the birdie. It filled the living room, and eventually, the project had to be completed on the roof because it was too large to fit through the window – our original plan.

After a while, our experts conferred and concurred that the bird could not be broken apart to release the candy by normal means. In making it so large, we had structurally reinforced the construction. It would take a bazooka to blow this birdie to bits. This was where our pyrotechnics experts got involved and the beginnings of all our woes with the project. The Folkie Palace was ransacked for every firecracker, cherry bomb, or other fireworks available. We placed charges strategically, ensuring that the birdie would blow when lit.

We stuffed the paper mache bird full of candy on Thanksgiving morning and prepared to lower it into the street below at sunset. Then, completing this task and believing we had covered all our bets, we went downstairs for the feast.

The Monk had gone for traditional for the feast, no extra legs, aliens, strange sauces, or tricky devices. So there would be plenty of leftovers for days to come. The dinner was anti-climatic, considering that all the while we were eating, we imagined the fun that turkey piñata would be.

As soon as we finished, we hurried to the roof and checked our preparations. The Canary acted as the official timer and started a ceremonial countdown to sunset. At that precise moment, we lowered the giant piñata towards the street, and the crowd waiting below to beat at it with baseball bats.
It was, of course, the battleship of piñatas and barely yielded to the assault. So we decided to ignite the charges. The following events are disputed among the witnesses, but the consensus is that fire and smoke first came out of the turkey’s mouth. Next, the wings appeared to flap, and a giant puff of exhaust was emitted from the tail. Finally, the bird seemed poised to fly off but exploded into a shower of paper mache and candy. The crowd had begun to panic at the smoke and flames but thoroughly enjoyed the barrage of candy. Our giant exploding Thanksgiving piñata was a great success.

Someone ratted on us. Later that evening, Officer Cappucci knocked on the door. While he had no proof, he strongly suspected we were behind the great piñata explosion. It was suggested, firmly, that the City Department of Sanitation find Grove Street in a state of extreme cleanliness on Monday morning, or unavoidable repercussions for littering, shooting off fireworks, creating a public nuisance, etcetera, etcetera would be lodged. And that’s how we spent the weekend following Thanksgiving, sweeping, mopping, and cleaning our block of the street. When the police cruiser swept by Monday morning, Grove Street gleamed.


In our house, I cook the Holiday meals. My wife works nights, and it would be brutal to expect her to prep a feast right afterward. So I cook. But there can be some significant planning obstacles.

The obstacles are our cat Xenia and dog, Sam. They don’t consider themselves obstacles. They see it as supervising the main event of fall, Turkeylurkey Day – a term they know well. They ensure that everything from a cheese and crackers board served at noon to the turkey and dessert get sampled for Quality Control.

The Bird:

Prepping requires all the grace of a professional dancer. You weave and twist among the cat and dog. They are footloose between your feet until the bird is in the oven. They may leave the kitchen at that point, but they don’t travel far. After cooking the bird, they assume worshipful positions by the cutting board. The small scraps belong to them as their due.

The Meal:

Only human family members are allowed in the dining room. That does not stop Xenia and Sam from “passing through” from the kitchen to the living room. A few calculating looks get tossed at the area under the table…just in case something needs a fast and efficient cleanup.

The Cleanup:

A full crew of humans and the two supervisors fill the kitchen. As the bird gets stripped for leftovers, the supervisory staff gets competitive as scraps get tossed or fall from the cutting board. Careful strategy is needed to maximize your haul at this point. Sibling rivalry is on full display.


How could I forget the year Louis, my youngest, made an incredible pumpkin pie? As it cooled, we watched a movie. The chief of quality control, Xenia, sampled the pie. Luckily she was uninterested in the apple pan dowdy I had made. The dog’s only interest was in the rum-soaked fruitcake. All the crumbs that fall belong to him.

After the feast, everyone reflects on what they have to be thankful for. Xenia and Sam, sleeping it off under the table, are dreaming of Christmas – next on their schedule.


There was no such thing as a typical holiday at the Folkie Palace. The personnel was always in flux, and the economic wherewithal to celebrate tended to concentrate on alcohol and marijuana rather than festive foods and decor. If you wanted a holiday motif, you’d best wander down to Washinton St. and the displays in Jordan’s, Filene’s, and Kennedy’s. And we did. We usually did this when at least half-lit and could stare at the lights on the Boston Common until our eyes dried out so much that we were forced to blink. Still, despite the slush on the Beacon Hill streets, Boston was lovely enough during the holidays that an absolute lack of charm inside the apartment did not bother us.

One night, just days before Thanksgiving, the Monk started going on about how festive it could be if everyone pitched in and decorated the Folkie Palace for the holidays. Reluctant at first, the holiday spirit grew. Over the next days, one than others brought in borrowed, swiped, and found items to decorate the windows looking out over Grove St. 

Dutchie found a discarded aluminum tinsel Christmas tree in the dumpster behind Filene’s and brought it home. The Monk, our chef extraordinaire, scrounged the market for a Thanksgiving feast. Having little money, we had to be innovative. Being folkies, we were unconventional in our choices of decor. The Teahead of the August Moon used holiday lights to illuminate the FUCK COMMUNISM sign that faced the apartment of some Socialists living across the street. They had attempted to correct our error in doctrine without success.

At last, Thanksgiving came. About twenty people showed up in waves to consume the feast the Monk had prepared. It would be fair to say that gobble was the best operative word; many of the guests did not eat this well on a regular basis. After dinner, the Monk announced that there would be the grand lighting of the Christmas decorations at sunset – officially opening the holiday season. But first, we consumed the pies. 

At sunset, we lit Dutchie’s Tinsel tree. Then the large Fuck Communism sign featuring glitter and blinking lights got lit. The Monk then ceremonially turned on the strings of lights in the windows looking out on Grove St. It was impressive.

My friend Bill then announced that his unique Christmas display was ready for unveiling. Bill was the only technologically capable individual in our group. We had wondered what he was keeping under old sheets. Bill had stunk up the apartment with the smells of soldering and burning electrical components for days. Finally, he whipped off the sheets and plugged in his magnum opus.

Bill had cannibalized defective strings of lights, an old motorized Santa display, and a phonograph to create a sort of Zombie Santa. It eerily went from dark to flashing lights in disturbing patterns. Santa seemed to lurch from one side to another, and smoke arose from an incense pot at his feet. The record on the phonograph ran at varying speeds, so the Ho HO ho – have you been a good little boy – sped up and slowed down, making Santa, with his lurching movements, seem to be more a part of the Cthulu mythos, and less an Elf from the North Pole. About sixty seconds into this apparition, something serious started to burn inside Santa, and we pulled the plug on him for good.

Afterward, everyone agreed that it had been an unforgettable Thanksgiving.

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