Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
- Community Blog
Beneath the Lime Tree
My mother introduced the Thanksgiving tradition of chasing my terrified little brother Jason around the house with a raw turkey neck when he was three years old. The cherished custom continued for five years, and I looked forward to it each November almost as much as I did to eating mountains of mashed potatoes with turkey gravy as well as helping myself to my mother’s homemade cheese ball.
It all started as a moment of cruel inspiration on my mother’s part. On Thanksgiving morning she was busy unwrapping and preparing the turkey in our kitchen on 8th Street in Ramona as Jason looked on curiously. “Getting ready to cook the turkey, Mommy?”
“Mm hmm. But first I have to get rid of the giblets and neck.”
“The organs,” our mother said, pulling the giblets from the turkey. “Including them in the turkey seems like an enormous waste of time, if you asked me, but I suppose someone must eat them or they wouldn’t insist on putting them in here. I don’t know who could think about eating organs when you have such a potentially wonderful meal right in front of you, but I guess there’s no accounting for taste. Even our cats won’t eat them. And as for the neck, I think you’re supposed to use it to make some sort of dreadful gravy, but, thank goodness, I would never do anything so hideous.
“And before we pop it in the oven, we, of course, have to first give the turkey a nice herb butter massage, but not before,” she said, plunging a hand inside the turkey, “getting rid of the neck.” She pulled it from the turkey’s cavity and held it up for Jason to see.
“It looks icky,” Jason observed, scrunching up his face.
“It certainly does,” our mother said as if truly seeing a turkey neck for the first time in her life. “Would you like a little nibble, Jason?” She asked playfully, thrusting the salmonella inducing neck toward him.
“No,” Jason said, taking a cautionary step backward.
“Oh, come on, Jason,” our mother urged, taking a step forward. “You can’t honestly know you don’t like something until you’ve tried it, right?”
“No,” Jason uttered again as he frantically shook his head. “I don’t want to try it. It’s not even cooked.” He took another step toward the living room.
“Just one little taste?” she said, reaching the turkey neck out for Jason to sample; she wiggled it up and down enticingly.
Jason recoiled. “No!” he screamed before turning and sprinting out of the kitchen. Our mother was right behind him with the turkey neck in her outstretched hand as if she were playing her own disturbing adaptation of tag.
“Aaaiiee!” Jason screamed in terror. Our mother, laughing the entire time, chased Jason through the living room, where the rest of our family sat watching TV, out the front door, around the porch, back through the living room and, once again, into the kitchen, before he tore out the back door and hid beneath our lime tree.
Our mother stopped the pursuit in the kitchen, where she sat in a chair, doubled over in laughter, her right arm rested on her knee, the turkey neck, still in her hand, jiggled as she laughed. My stepfather, Ross, my other little brother, Joe, and I all thought it was just as amusing as my mother did.
Jason, crying, wouldn’t come out from beneath the lime tree until our mother promised him the turkey neck was securely in the trash for good and that he could have a pilgrim hat shaped sugar cookie.
After the sixth year, the 8th Street Running of the Turkey Neck ceased. I can’t remember why it stopped. Perhaps Jason hid while our mother prepared the turkey or perhaps she had just grown weary of the whole thing, but for whatever reason it stopped happening.
As Jason grew, our mother would arbitrarily attempt to resume the Thanksgiving tradition, but Jason was no longer a small child and his maturity gave him the inner strength to overcome the power that the turkey neck had once held over him.
“Look at what I've got, Jason,” she would say, slightly crouched over as she crept menacingly from the kitchen into the living room with the turkey neck.
“Aw, knock it off already,” he would reply in disgust as our mother approached him with the raw meat.
“Oh, you’re just no fun at all,” she would say, straightening up when Jason refused to grow fearful. “You know, Jason,” she chided, “you were a lot funnier when you were younger.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he scoffed.
To this day Jason still can't see the humor in our mother pursuing him through the house with the raw turkey neck, forcing him to cower beneath the lime tree.