Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thanksgiving without sports

YWS: The Thanksgiving Edition

In which our hero must navigate the treacherous waters of Thanksgiving Day and all its attendant temptations. (I kept notes on scraps of paper and then got wildly busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So that's why I'm late with this blog post. Also, my dog ate my homework.)

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, combining two of the nation’s greatest obsessions: food and sports. If we didn’t have a Thanksgiving holiday, we’d have to invent one just like it. Only the Super Bowl more intensely combines our mania for food and sports.
I’m on a diet from one of those (see earlier posts) and it’s not food. So the object of the game is to get through the day, enjoying the traditional delights — the turkey and mashed potatoes, the creamed-bean casserole, the southwestern corn puddin’ and a dish called Ambrosia, which consists of a cocktail of mixed fruit and lots of mini-marshmallows. I think the marshmallow industry must make three-quarters of its profit between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is the time when people eat dishes like sweet potatoes capped with mini-marshmallows, hot chocolate (with marshmallows) and the afore-mentioned “Ambrosia.”
As often is the case, the Tarrant platoon – Sharon, I and the two kiddos, Jackson and Natalie— are joining forces with my wife’s side of the family: The Kilday clan. The assembly point is my Austin in-laws house, home of Patti and Jeff. It’s large enough to comfortably seat 20-to-30 guests, yet it never feels crowded. The Thanksgiving dinner group runs the gamut from our 88-year-old matriarch, Betty Kilday, to a couple of young nieces in elementary school. In the middle are a range of Kilday men and bros-in-law, which are rabid sports fans, particularly when it comes to the Texas Longhorns. These are the guys I’m worried about. Their reaction to my YWS adventure is stupefaction bordering on querulous disdain.

“Are you allowed to play sports?” my nephew, Peter, asks? He’s in his mid-20s now, and at 6-4 and he still looks like the competitive high school football and basketball player he was. Peter went on to Rhodes College where he continued playing basketball for a couple of years. He’s also a skilled skier, sailor and generally all-round athlete. I can understand his concern, even though my own athletic endeavors are pretty much confined to bike riding these days.
“Yes,” I said. “I can play sports. "
Actually, when it comes to this Year Without Sports endeavor, I’m pretty much making it up as I go along. Basically, I’ve decided to not watch sports on TV. So it’s more of a sports media fast.
For 50 years I’ve been a typical obsessive fan, utterly devoted to my teams. It started with the Pirates and Steelers — I rooted for them as a kid growing up in Pittsburgh — and continued with the Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers, the teams I adopted after moving to Dallas (Not the Cowboys. Never!).
During baseball season, I spent evenings watching three-hour-long games almost every night. During football season, I spent afternoons and/or evenings watching the Steelers and other pro-football games. Hell, it got so bad I even watched the Cowboys if nothing else was on. I justified this by saying I was in the news business, and in Dallas the Cowboys were big news.
But it got to the saturation point — and then some, as my previous posts attest. I’d love to totally unplug, but I’m not there yet. I check the scores – which takes only a few minutes. I subscribe to Sports Illustrated - there’s no way I’m going without those great narrative tales by Gary Smith and others.
And, then there’s my stupid fantasy football league, which I can’t seem to completely divorce myself from — even though I’m in last place. I know. It’s embarrassing.
Anyway, the men in my wife’s family are as sports-obsessed as I am. But they are definitely not just couch potatoes. Peter’s parents, Jeff and Patti, do everything from running and swimming to deep sea sailing and fishing to hot and cold yoga. Today, Thanksgiving Day, they ran the Austin Turkey Trot.
They have Thanksgiving dinner early enough so we can digest while watching the traditional games that run that day: the Dallas Cowboys versus some other NFL team and the Longhorns against the Aggies. Interest is stronger than usual in the latter game, even though both teams have mediocre records. With the Aggies heading off next year to the Southeastern Conference, the century-old rivalry with the Longhorns is ending.
Thanksgiving Day arrived and a covey of Kildays flew out the door and to join the Turkey Trot. I wasn’t registered and didn’t feel like standing in a very long line of same-day registrant. I decided against running amok — unregistered. (Bill Kilday, Sharon’s younger brother, says the proceeds go to a great cause — a well-run food bank that has been doing brisk business in this recession.) But I also felt like I was missing the point of this blog if I didn’t get outside on what was a pretty nice day. So I borrowed Jeff’s bike and rode along with the runners. As it turned out, I would have been better off running unregistered. For now, I was neither registered, nor running. I was just this odd guy who was for some reason riding very slowly on a bike along with the middle of the crowd, which seemed for the most part to not be running. For the most part they seemed to be families out for leisurely Thanksgiving stroll while completely decked out in running clothes. Only in America, right?
I didn’t really have a plan for the post-Thanksgiving Dinner time, which consisted of back-to-back football games. The first featured the Miami Dolphins against the Dallas Cowboys, who were rather surprisingly carrying a three-game winning streak and playing at home. The second game would be the harder one to miss: The Longhorns against the Aggies. At College Station. Aggieland. It was one of college football’s oldest and greatest rivalries and now it was ending. The Aggies had chosen to secede from the Big 12 and go to the Southeastern Conference. There was bitterness galore to an already bitter rivalry. I really wanted to see it just for the news value — and I probably should have. Instead, I punted. I took a nap. That’s right. I did what any all-American male does when he has a bellyful of grub. I slept.
A few hours later, I awoke to the sound of laughter and true merriment. It wasn’t coming from the living room where the game was on. Instead it was coming from the dining room, where a group of Kilday sisters and youngsters — including my Jackson and Natalie — were playing a board game called Bananas. I’m not familiar with the game -- it looks something like Scrabble -- but it was an old-fashioned hoot because there was a lot of loud talking and laughter and, of course, arguing. This is an Irish-American family, after all. So, in the end, I kept my promise not to watch any games. But I had missed out on a nice alternative: Bananas. Still, a nap is never a bad thing. Especially on Thanksgiving Day.

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