By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan”
DISCLAIMER: Writing a story about Thanksgiving was NOT my idea. My editor Brandi asked for one, so here it is.
For starters, the arrival of Thanksgiving in central Wisconsin always meant one thing to me. It meant winter was here and Stevens Pointers could look forward to four lousy months of sleet, blizzards, terrible driving conditions, freezing temps, and cars not starting. I hated Thanksgiving.
In our family, there was no such thing as “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go”.
My granny passed when I was young, and I never met the other one. If I ever had one unfavorite holiday, Thanksgiving was it.
Thanksgivings for me pretty much came in three stages. First was the period from the crib to age 21. I have no recollection whatsoever of what those times were like. The second stage was from the age of 21 to 50. We always had Thanksgiving dinner at my house. By “we”, I mean my ma, my aunt, my brother and sister and their families, and whoever else happened to drop by.
And it was always a lavish affair.
Mouth-watering turkey, mashed potatoes, fantastic gravy, dressing or stuffing that you would kill for, corn, dinner rolls, and you name it. Always an awesome dinner. Served at the downstairs dining table with a new tablecloth and the whole works. And every year, actually every October, I would start thinking of ways to get out of sitting at the table with the rest of the gang.
Now don’t get me wrong. My mom’s cooking was awesome. Her specialties were spaghetti and meatballs, chip dip, and Thanksgiving dinners. The cooking was definitely NOT the problem. The issue was having to sit at the table with all the others. Everyone knew that I hated it. To put it bluntly, I was very content to take my heaping plate upstairs to my room, lay out The Sporting News, and eat like a pig.
Only time I’d come back downstairs was to get another helping and head right back upstairs. I really didn’t need to hear about my aunt’s lumbago again and listen to “Timothy! Use your fork!” And I always had a bottle of Tums nearby. That was almost as important as the bird.
In the early going, I was stuck with sitting at the dinner table. For two straight years in a row, I was excused after sucking my cranberry sauce loudly through a straw. That one worked every time. And every year my mom would ask: “So are you going to sit with the family this year?” and I’d say, “Sure,” and start thinking of ways to get out of it.
One of the huge problems was that Thanksgiving is the one day everything is closed. The city turns into a ghost town. So it really wouldn’t work if I said I had a basketball game to go to or I had to work a softball game. For a few years, my buddy Nicole Batzel and I would drive over to the Moose Lodge and pick up some dinners and take them to needy or elderly people. That was one way to get outta the house. But usually it was watch the Detroit Lions, take in the Dallas Cowboys, and scram before everyone else arrived.
Since I was always single, Thanksgiving had no special meaning to me. I lived alone since 2003. My mom passed and the family dinners stopped. So from age 50 on, I actually enjoyed simply making a turkey TV dinner and then walking on down to the nearest bar. At least most of the taverns were open. Did that for quite a few years.
And then, maybe ten years ago, I decided to host Thanksgiving dinners at the Shoe House.
You should know that cooking wasn’t my strongest suit. The first time I made a frozen pizza, I forgot to take the plastic wrapper off. Darn thing tasted kinda plastic-y.
Simply making a can of soup was a challenge. Cooking a turkey??? You gotta be kidding. A turkey is supposed to come out of the oven golden brown. You cook it for maybe four hours. The first time I cooked a turkey, I put it in the oven and watched a football game. Then I fell asleep on the couch. Woke up about seven hours to the smell of something burning. Golden brown? That bird looked like a shrunken black bowling ball and tasted like an anvil.
So I got smart. I’d watched my mom make her terrific dressing once and wrote it down. So I’d get someone like Candice Sheppard or Chelsea Stenzel to make the awesome stuffing. I’d invite Jesse Higgins to cook the turkey. (He’s great at it!) My buddy Jeff would buy the 20-lb. turkey. Kris Arendt would get the wine and make the gravy. (She always wants the drumstick). Nephew Bobby would get the dinner rolls. Nicole once brought a pie. I invited Chelsea and sis Em again. Amber Hintz brings the brownies. Erin Auer, Megan Nowak-Day, Erin Laffe, Cory Blake, neighbor Minnow, and Noah Zdroik and Cody Tokarski have all been invited. Usually five or six people show up. Sometimes 10, you never know. We watch football, play songs on the computer, tell jokes, clean dishes as we go, drink some beer, and have a grand old time.
And I buy the Tums. You gotta have the Tums.
SHOE’S AMAZING DRESSING:
(40 people have tried this dressing. They all loved it. Without exception).
WHAT YOU NEED: Two (2) tubes of Jimmy Dean sausage; one (1) cup onion; One (1) cup celery; Three (3) bags of bread crumbs; Two (2) teaspoons of sage; Two (2) teaspoons of marjoram; Two (2) teaspoons of thyme. (It’s time for thyme.); Four (4) eggs; Four (4) teaspoons of salt; A little milk (to moisten); and Two (2) big containers of chicken broth (Swanson’s). WHAT YOU DO: 1. Get out your big bowl. 2. Into it put your eggs and stir them up with a swifter. 3. Cook all your sausage on the stove. 4. Put in all the breading (after you take it out from the plastic bag). 5. Add the onion, celery, sage, marjoram, thyme, salt, and Chicken broth. 6. Take a break. You deserve it. 7. When break is over, stir everything up. 8. Then add all the sausage and mix it in. 9. Stir everything again. Oops. Almost forgot. You might want to boil in water the onion and celery first. 10. Then you’re almost done. Put most of the dressing in bowls but leave some to put in the turkey. Then bake the dressing for 25 minutes or so at 350 degrees and sample occasionally. Cover with tin foil. 11. Then take the dressing out, smother it with gravy, and enjoy!