Central Pa. A native of Keith Ori, he currently resides in Florida where he stars on the FYI show « Zombie House Flipping ». . (Courtesy photo by Keith Ori. )
Every two weeks the star « Zombie House Flipping » and Hummelstown native Keith Ori writes about the remarkable differences between growing up in Pennsylvania and living in Florida.
I always thought Thanksgiving was a special holiday. This goes back to the picture in the textbooks we grew up on. You know the one: long table full of food, an angry turkey in the middle, pilgrims straight from the central casting on one side and grateful but almost naked Indians on the other. all break bread in perfect harmony.
In the 1970s, the world didn’t really expand any further than I could see, but somehow this scene just felt super unlikely.
My elementary school teachers insisted it actually go that way, but deep down I knew that I had never met a Native American who seemed really excited about Thanksgiving. The fact that I hadn’t met any Native Americans at all was considered irrelevant in my fourth grade analysis because if Thanksgiving really happened as it was pictured, the Native Americans would definitely show up for the annual reunion.
Basically, Thanksgiving took place exclusively with white alabaster people (and let’s face it, until the end of November in Pa. They have as little melatonin as you do on deciduous trees) and looked like the Super Bowl without the AFC.
I always thought it would have been cool if some Indians came to my parents’ house and surprised everyone, although my mother would have found this a little more than surprising. I imagined they offered a few fixes for historical accuracy, like « We’ll call it corn, » as well as admonitions not to throw away trash because those were the things Native Americans did on TV in the 1970s, but all we ever got were relatives.
Many relatives. The scene played out year after year, something like the movie « Groundhog Day » – everyone in uncomfortable clothes, telling the same stories, making polite comments about the (legitimately amazing) food my mother had made, ate more than full and then quickly retreated into the living room in a terrifyingly sluggish state.
After a couple of years, I felt like I knew the script. I knew what people were going to say before they said it. It was the one day of my life that every year I knew exactly what was going to happen from waking up to falling asleep, which was somehow comforting and unsettling in this « glitch in the matrix ». pretty much.
That changed when I went to college in Mississippi and spent Thanksgiving in New Orleans. On the way to New Orleans for the first Thanksgiving, my host explained that her family had deep fried their Thanksgiving turkey. Of course, I thought it was « mess with Yankee Day » because I mean, how would you even fry something the size of a Honda car engine? It didn’t make sense.
But it was there. Let it go south. Whatever you want to fry, the southerners have found a way to do it. It was absolutely fascinating to fry a turkey in a huge vat. Get a man who’s been drinking since 10am. m. (it’s New Orleans folks) to use a very hot propane flame to superheat five gallons of dense accelerator with only a frozen turkey standing in the way of disaster. It looked a lot more precarious than contemporary food production should be.
Later, when I moved to Florida, we had a couple of Thanksgiving celebrations where we made our own food and actually a memorable attempt where a guest / host inexplicably hit a tree to roast a turkey in my back yard caught on fire.
I remember watching this whole tree rise like Charlton Heston’s burning bush and wonder how the hell a tree caught fire during the production of food? However, the cook, a native of Floridian, was more confident and admitted it wasn’t the first tree he lost on Thanksgiving.
Today, most of the Floridians I know who were invited to share Thanksgiving know most of the food that has already been prepared, and this is probably the biggest difference between Pa. and Florida.
Thanksgiving traditions seem to prevail in Pa. where the process of planning and preparing meals is a rhythm for the vacation, while in Florida people seem more interested in seeing the full part of the eating, relaxing, and football. We’re not quite on the Drive through Thanksgiving Dinner in Florida yet, but if you blink properly it may be on the horizon.
This year will be different, however. Very different. Tradition will prevail as people try to figure out how to celebrate with family or maybe without family as we all try to stay safe through COVID-19. It will hurt a little, but hopefully things will get back to normal next year. It’s just strange to think that without the right precautions, something worse than catching your tree on fire could come Thanksgiving.
Keith Ori is currently writing a memoir in Central Pa. He can be reached on his website or on Instagram at @keithori
READ MORE: After the election, Florida looks at Pa. and thinks « I’m glad it wasn’t us » | Keith Ori
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