The Christmas trees are up in the parks, the stores have toys and decorations and lights are going up at houses.

That can mean only one thing: Thanksgiving is just days away.

That’s right. Thanksgiving, a holiday that once had its own identity and a little separation from Christmas. It was when we got together as families to eat good food and sit around comatose during the afternoon.

We gathered sometimes at my grandma’s house — Grandpa also lived there, but he couldn’t cook — and it was a good day with all my cousins. One of my uncles prayed, thanking God for all his blessings. My uncle Gartrell was especially good at this, and the food cooled considerably during his long prayers from the heart.

In the afternoon, the kids would turn out to play while the adults griped about things that had not been blessings, mostly the U.S. government and the Beatles.

We didn’t have much in those days, but we do now and the holiday weekend has turned into a spend-fest with huge sales encouraging people to melt down their credit cards, although that’s not so much a problem anymore because of amazing technological advances. Time was, you had to insert your credit card into a slot to be scanned, but now all you have to do is tap it on a screen. The receipt jumps out and you’re on your way to the next store without a care in the world. The cares won’t come until the new year when the bills come due.

Thanksgiving sales have at least helped the furniture industry. Stores buy benches for men to sit on while their wives shop for hours on end.

The Thanksgiving meal has also expanded to include dishes that we used to treat with disdain. When I watch TV, I hear all this talk of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Then someone chimes in with “mashed potatoes.”

Really? Mashed potatoes, a dish that is as tasty as cold grits without butter. I don’t understand how mashed potatoes got onto the Thanksgiving menu. It’s something you serve as a side dish with meatloaf so you can say you had a vegetable.

When people talk about eating stuffing I want to go to court and petition for custody of their kids. Children should not be brought up to eat stuffing especially if it’s made by cramming a bunch of seasoned loaf bread cubes into the cavity of a turkey carcass. The stuffing cooks in the oven in the place once filled with the turkey’s liver, lights and guts. Sounds yummy.

I like dressing and I’ve never had any better than grandma’s. She crumbled biscuits and cornbread in a pan and mixed it with broth. Then she added onions and sage grown in the back yard and baked it in the oven. My first taste of stuffing was in the U.S. Army in a mess hall in Chu Lai that had been partly blown down by Typhoon Hester. They also inflicted pumpkin pie upon us along with processed turkey loaf.

It did beat C rations heated in the bush over Sterno tabs or little pieces of C-4 explosives but barely.

Pumpkin pie is among my least favorite things in the world. I’ve had cough syrup that tasted better. How it ever achieved status as a dessert is mystifying. If it’s so good, why has nobody ever brought pumpkin pie to a family reunion? God gave us pumpkins for decoration, and He gave us pecans and peaches for pies.

To my everlasting shame as a Southerner, I will admit to pronouncing pecan puh-cahn’ or sometimes pe-can’, but when you talk about the pie it should be pee’-can’ with equal, strong emphasis on each syllable.

If you’ve got to have an orange desert, make sweet potato pie or souffle. The latter is delicious with a crusty top layer of pee-cans, but I’ve seen people top it with marshmallows.

Listen, marshmallows are candy. They’re OK floating in the top of some steaming hot cocoa, I guess, but they shouldn’t be used to compromise the taste of sweet potatoes. They might help yams, but yams need a lot of help.

Marshmallows are best when skewered on the end of a stick and held over a campfire until they burst into flames. Then you can throw the charcoal marshmallow with the runny centers to the raccoons in the edge of the woods. Continue the process until you’re out of marshmallows.

We also never had macaroni-and-cheese at Thanksgiving, but that was back in the day when kids would eat things that didn’t taste like cheese. Macaroni-and-cheese is what you make when you decide at the last minute to go to a covered dish supper.

As for green bean casserole, green beans are sufficient in their original form and don’t require casserolization with fried onions and cream of mushroom soup.

Perhaps we got a lot of these dishes from our brothers and sisters to the north. I also think if you’re forced to eat mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie as a child at a supposedly festive meal, you’ll grow up untrusting, aloof and prone to honk your horn a lot in traffic.

We owe them, however, for introducing us to the cranberry, a hard red berry harvested from New England bogs. I love cranberry sauce whether it glops out of a can or is made from a home recipe.

In fact, if you slather it on top of stuffing, the stuffing becomes edible.

For that I give thanks.

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