Going Cold Turkey: Memories From Provincetown

by Paddy Johnson on November 21, 2012 Word Center

ProvinceTown Dune Shack

I don’t vacation easily. I love blogging and social media, so I find it hard to put down my phone. I love art, and often can’t make conversation around anything else. I am not a social maverick nor the dilettante I once imagined I would be.

These issues come up every year at Thanksgiving. What will I talk about with the non-art folks? Will I have a good time? Should I take Friday off? The answer to this last question came to me thanks to “Going Cold Turkey”, a story published by Food & Wine Magazine back in 2000 by Susan Choi. Like a few AFC readers this year, Choi remained on-site during a residence in Provincetown, choosing to spend her Thanksgiving with friends. It wasn’t the best Thanksgiving—in fact, according to this telling, it was the worst—but it did explain to me why we should take Friday off. In a word (or two): exquisite sandwiches. An excerpt below:

Loving the leftovers more than meal is easy, but giving the reasons for this preference is hard. I know that I never feel so happy truant as when eating cold Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce as a sandwich. But why? Why, every Thanksgiving do I approach the magnificent table with mist in my eyes, unable to see what’s before me for my vision of tomorrow’s cold lunch? I don’t dislike Thanksgiving—quite the opposite. That may be why. With cherished days, there’s a strange tension between the pleasure of the occasion and the fear that the pleasure won’t be absolute. Some people are made miserable by their desire to be happy on Christmas morning or at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s eve. Some dread imperfect joy on their birthdays. I feel it every Thanksgiving: Will the stuffing really have been baked inside the bird? Will we be happy?

Hence the guarantee and consolation of leftovers. In the worst case, they compensate for yesterday’s disaster; in the best case they’re a pure bonus. That year in Provincetown, the meal was painful. Conversation faltered, heavily dependent for its subject on the small, aloof dog that belonged to the couple. For some reason, a lot of things spilled. But the food was fantastic, and I doubt I was alone in thinking hopefully of the time, not far to come, when I’d be enjoying it under gentler circumstances. I might have been planning a dinner, for some of the survivors, of reheating stuffing and pie. I might have been remembering the first time my father made me leftover-mashed-potato omelet (if you’ve never tried this you should). I might have been wishing that everyone would go away, so I could pick at the bird with my fingers. But you’ve known from the start how this ends: with the leftovers removed by our hosts, never to be seen again. They weren’t hoarding; they seemed to think no one would want them, and we were too shy to ask.

A sad story, sure. But there are always other years, when the melancholy of the day, if there is any, is transmuted and redeemed. Years when, at the end of night, your host bestows on you profusions of foil-wrapped packages. Years when, you wake up in the morning and you realize you don’t have to work, and you make some terrific turkey-stuffing-cranberry sandwiches and set off with your friend or your lover, or your small, aloof dog, for some place you don’t often go. The quality of this day, like the quality of the sandwich is unique. It retains the essence of Thanksgiving but has shrugged off the burden of time. I have an aunt who always brings the sweet potatoes to the family meal, and who told me one Thanksgiving, “Every year I make these things, I see my whole life flash before my eyes.” I knew what she meant. But what about the next day’s sweet potatoes, reheated with brand new marshmallows? They’re unstuck from the moment, as are you. You aren’t supposed to eat this kind of thing for breakfast, but this isn’t a regular day, and perhaps these aren’t regular days. Perhaps time has lost track of you. And if the sweet potatoes make you feel this way—wait until you taste the sandwich.


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