Of Football and ‘King Kong’

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So, we’re hosting Thanksgiving at our house. We didn’t intend to, but about a month or so ago, my dad called up and said very matter-of-factly, “Hey, let’s have Thanksgiving at your place this year.” And with that simple declaration, my dad invited himself, my mom, and the rest of the immediate family over – about 20 people altogether. I’m thrilled that he did. It’s going to be fun.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and my wife and I have hosted it only once – that’s right, only once – in the 14 years that we’ve been married. That one occasion was marked by what I still refer to as the “fastest Thanksgiving dinner ever.” I remember it clearly.

We took extra special care to dress up the dining room table. We prepared a glorious meal. We said grace. And then our oldest son, who was 2 at the time, ate one small bite of turkey, a mouthful of mashed potatoes and … that was it. He was done. Which would have been fine if he had been able to sit tight at the table for another 45 minutes while everyone else savored dinner. Instead, he wailed and screamed … and squirmed in his chair … and wailed and screamed some more. Being a relatively new parent – and not wanting our guests’ meals to be ruined by the awful racket – I escorted the boy out of the room and played with him until dessert. What a sucker I was. I had to heat up my dinner in the microwave later.

Beyond that isolated incident, though, I recall many great Thanksgivings. Or, to be more precise, I have a composite memory of all great “Thanksgivings past.” They all run together. That’s because Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, I think, is so wonderfully formulaic. It has a reliable schedule of events that endures from year to year without variation. That’s what I like about it – you know what to expect.

In fact, here’s Thanksgiving from every year of my childhood: Wake up, watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while eating breakfast (and desserts that were supposed to be for later), watch “King Kong,” watch the first quarter of the Lions game, get dressed, go outside and clean the gutters, then play in our own Turkey Bowl football game, sit down for dinner and dessert, and catch the end of the Cowboys game while falling asleep on the couch. Ah yes, a perfect day for a boy.

You probably noticed a few interesting things in that little synopsis.

First … “King Kong?” Yes, “King Kong.” Don’t ask me why, but when I was a kid growing up in Cleveland, one of the local television stations always aired “King Kong” on Thanksgiving Day. It became a tradition. And we’re talking the original “King Kong” here; no remakes. The real deal from 1933, with boats sailing through the fog toward mysterious Skull Island; Fay Wray screaming like no one has ever screamed before or since; and a beast that couldn’t be contained by mere steel shackles while on display at a New York City concert hall. It scared the stuffing out of us – and we hadn’t even eaten the stuffing yet.

Second, clean the gutters? Yes, my dad is German, and what would a day off from work be without a little work around the house. I’d shimmy up the ladder and clean the leaves out of the gutters while he held the ladder. Half-an-hour later, it was Turkey Bowl time.

Third, that much football? Of course! We were boys – and watching grown men tackle each other on TV could only lead to one thing: going outside and tackling our brothers in the backyard, which usually led to tears, screaming, name calling, pushing, shoving and hot-dogging.

As a grown-up, some things haven’t changed. I still watch the parade on TV while eating desserts that are supposed to be for later. I still catch parts of the Lions and Cowboys games. And I still toss around the old pigskin in the yard.

What has changed is this: Rather than casually thinking, like I did as a kid, that I was thankful for football and food, I now take the “thanks” part of Thanksgiving much more seriously. I am thankful for the health of my family. I am thankful that we have the means to host a nice dinner. And I’m thankful that we’ll be seeing the family all together at our house.

Brian Kantz highly recommends that you rent the original “King Kong” and make it your new Thanksgiving tradition. Brian can be reached at thenewbiedad@yahoo.com.