November 2015

Line in the Sand: Who would you invite to...Thanksgiving Dinner?

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Opinion 1: Barry Kaufman
As every retailer has no doubt made you uncomfortably aware, we are now in the thick of the holiday season. Halloween is behind us, and while it hasn’t happened as I write this, I’m just as shocked as you are to hear about whatever celebrity dressed in a racist costume this year.

I’m assuming that’s going to happen again this year. If it didn’t, just assume Mel Gibson dressed in a racist costume and you didn’t hear about it.

But with the passing of Halloween comes Thanksgiving, the middle child of the holiday season. At Halloween you get candy, you get to dress up, and you get to decorate your house like a crime scene. At Christmas, you get presents, you get more candy, and you get to decorate your house like an even creepier crime scene. They’re both great holidays.

Thanksgiving is, at its heart, a turkey dinner.

Let me be clear on this: turkey is delicious. I love turkey. That’s why I regularly have turkey, but that’s also why I have a really hard time getting that excited about a turkey dinner. Because as it turns out, you can buy turkey all year long. In fact, last year I got so sick of turkey by the time Thanksgiving rolled around that we had barbecue instead. It was awesome.

The only reason we have turkey for Thanksgiving is because at some point in the 1800s, somebody wanted to honor the pilgrims, but realized that the undercooked fish and shoe leather that comprised the first Thanksgiving dinner were gross. So they subbed in turkey, because while the culinary arts had advanced quite a bit since colonial Plymouth, they still had not invented stuffed crust pizza. Which is why everyone looks so depressed in old photos.

And now we have to spend an entire day in front of an oven, basting like our lives depended on it so we don’t end up with turkey jerky, when we could be spending that day with our families and loved ones.
Which brings us to the point of this month’s column (I knew I’d wind up here eventually): the three people with whom I’d like to spend my Thanksgiving dinner. For the purposes of this list, I’ll have to exclude my default Thanksgiving crew of family and loved ones. Which is probably a blessing for them, considering what it’s like to be around me when I’m eating.

Person Number One: Andre the Giant
Now it should be patently obvious that if I were to have Andre the Giant over for Thanksgiving dinner, we would be serving boiled peanuts and only boiled peanuts. Because I could hear Andre the Giant ask, “Anybody want a peanut?” over and over again and it would never stop being funny. I’m hoping you get that reference. If you don’t, that’s on you for never having seen The Princess Bride.

The other reason I would want to have Andre the Giant over for Thanksgiving dinner is because of his legendary beer consumption. In an interview with David Letterman, Mr. Giant admitted that he had once consumed 119 beers in one sitting. Turns out, his record is closer to 156 beers, as reported by several eyewitnesses (who were all fellow professional wrestlers, so take that with a grain of salt).

So he’d be a great dinner guest, because suddenly my traditional 24-beer Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t seem like such a reason for everyone to get all “we love you and want to see you get the help you need” on me.

Person Number Two: Batman
Okay, so I’m cheating on this one a little, since Batman is actually more of a fictional character. But it just always struck me as more than a little sad that for all his caped crusading, Bruce Wayne never really gets to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. All the fancy cars and crime fighting equipment in the world can’t replace the love of family, so I’m sure while he’s karate kicking henchmen in the face every November, a little part of Batman cries inside that he’s not throwing back mashed potatoes and gravy with his parents.

So I’d like to sit down with Batman, show him how great it can be to simply enjoy a meal with loved ones without having to flit out into the night in pursuit of vigilante justice. How the laughter of children can fill even the most broken of hearts. How a few moments spent with loved ones can erase years of sadness.

And who knows? Maybe Batman will leave my table intent on hanging up the cape and cowl forever, choosing instead to honor his parents, rather than avenge them, by living a rich and full life.

And that, Gotham City, is when I enact Phase Two of my evil plan.

Person Number Three: Anthony Mongiello. Who? The guy who invented stuffed crust pizza. The guy who gets me.

Opinion 2: Courtney Hampson

I’m kind of into food. Like, in a big way. Grocery shopping brings me profound pleasure. Selecting a menu, and then writing my shopping list—organized store by store, and aisle by aisle—makes me happy. Prepping ingredients and preparing a timeline for what happens when, and sticking to that timeline excites me in an oh-I-may-suffer-from-OCD kind of way. The crux of the story is this: I like making people happy. Good food makes people happy. I like making good food and making people happy. Beyond the food, there is also the art of conversation, because let’s face it, the food is inhaled in three minutes and then what?

So, as Thanksgiving rounds the corner, I asked Barry my standard dinner party question: “If you could invite any three people, dead or alive, to your dinner table, who would they be?” In hindsight, and because I don’t have the luxury of seeing his column before we go to print, I am expecting utter sass from him. But, I’ll let Barry be Barry and carry on.

My first invitation would be extended to my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Courtney Hampson, for whom I am named. I never met her. She died of breast cancer when my father was 13; that event changed the course my father’s life and still impacts him today, 56 years later. I think having the opportunity to get to know her would help me understand my father a little better. Of course, I want to know what my father was like as a child. It didn’t hit me until just a few days ago, when he was telling me, my sister, and my nieces a story about a kid that he puked all over in church (true story), that I realized that was the first story I’d ever really heard of his childhood. In his defense, he grew up next door to David Cassidy (as in the Partridge Family David Cassidy), so save for my dad’s brief mention in Tiger Beat magazine circa 1970-something, perhaps the spotlight was always on David.

More important than understanding my father’s childhood, I am interested in getting to know my grandmother. How did she dress? Did she wear red lipstick? Is my crazy (and albeit too loud) laugh … hers? How did it feel to know she wouldn’t live to see her children marry, or meet her many grandchildren? I think to know her, would help me know my father better. And that would be a gift.

Next on my guest list is my Great-Great-Aunt Mary Jonas Pomnitz, the most generous person I have ever met. She was kind. And funny. And strong. My mother and Aunt Mary had a special bond, and that bond transferred to my sister and me as well. She doesn’t know it, but her generous high school graduation gift funded a full semester of beer purchases. The many pieces of jewelry that she passed on to me, either directly or through my mom, hold a special place in my heart. The diamond flowers in my ears, as I type, were crafted from a ring that she gave me. Every time I see them sparkle, I think of her.

She died, at age 90, in 2000. I was selfish and didn’t go to her funeral. It still bothers me. Every day. Every time I see those diamonds sparkle, I am reminded of how selfish I was and how unselfish Aunt Mary was. She always wanted to take us out to eat. She always sent a birthday card with a too-generous check. She always asked for stories, wanted to truly know what was happening in our lives. One of my favorite memories of Aunt Mary had me taking her to the doctor. I was in college, and picked her up at her house. I am pretty sure it was the first time I ever drove her somewhere. There was a torrential downpour, and before we left the house she made me put on one of her rain coats. She was 80, and our fashion sense was not aligned at the time. I acquiesced. True to Aunt Mary, she insisted on taking me out to lunch after her appointment. As we were walking into the restaurant, a hot guy held the door for us. He looked me in the eye, and then looked at my jacket. I was dry, but I was not getting a date. We laughed.

Aunt Mary would be back at my Thanksgiving table in heartbeat, if only for me to say, “I’m sorry.”

My last invitee is a stranger to me, but someone whose words have such profound impact, that I find myself thinking about them every day. Jim Valvano, or Jimmy V, as he is best known, was a college basketball coach and broadcaster. In 19 seasons as an NCAA coach, his record was 346-210. During his tenure, he appeared in eight NCAA tournaments and won a national championship with North Carolina State University in 1983. He was twice voted ACC Coach of the Year. But that is not what made him epic in my mind. He was diagnosed with cancer at age 45 and quickly became an advocate for the disease. On March 3, 1993, shortly before his death, while accepting the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award, he announced the creation of The V Foundation for Cancer Research, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer.

And oh, he had hutzpah. During his speech, the teleprompter stated that he had 30 seconds left, to which Valvano responded, “They got that screen up there flashing 30 seconds, like I care about that screen. I got tumors all over my body and I’m worried about some guy in the back going 30 seconds.”

I show his speech to my public speaking students every semester. Tears are always shed. The pinnacle of his accomplishments, revolve around life. The parts of life that truly matter. In his speech, he said this:

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

His tombstone reads, “Take time every day to laugh, to think, to cry.” He’ll be at the table to do just that. He’ll tell his Rutgers pep-talk story and make everyone laugh. He’ll talk about the things that truly matter in life and make us all think. And, together we’ll all talk about the things we’ve missed, and we’ll share a tear.

A dinner party to end all dinner parties. We’ll eat. We’ll drink. And we’ll make memories. Gosh, I hope they like margaritas. 

Courtney’s “Thanksgiving” Margarita:
Make a pitcher, you know you’ll drink it all.

• 1 Cup Tequila
• 1 bottle Corona
• 1 diet 7-up (not sprite)
• 1 frozen Minute Maid Lime-Aid
• Bunch of muddled cilantro
• 1 lime
• Chili lime salt(You can find at the Tea & Spice Exchange in Savannah)

Stir first five ingredients together.
Slice lime and run around the rim of a mason jar (yes, they have to be mason jars).
Roll rim of mason jar in chili lime salt.
Fill mason jar with ice.
Pour margarita over ice.
Drink!

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