Alice's Traditional Thanksgiving Pizza

Normally when I told this story, there was a classroom of students who were thinking more about the break in classes that was about to begin. I knew better than to attempt serious discussion on the last class before the Thanksgiving holiday and instead focused on communicating traditions rather than the traditions of communicating. This story involves Ken Kesey, Arlo Guthrie, traditional Thanksgiving pizza and of course, Alice.

I originally set out to keep one of my cherished holiday traditions in tact and share it with a generation that did not understand, at least as clearly as I did, the wisdom of Ken Kesey when he said that the 60's would not be over until the fat lady got high. As the war in the middle east dragged on, it was much easier to discuss antiwar sentiments with college students.

The first Thanksgiving that my two children and I celebrated without visiting family was challenging in that we had to decide what traditions we wanted to bring into our own fall festival and what new ideas we wanted to explore. Fortunately, Travis, 13 and Heather, 11 were willing to dive into the spirit of seeking new family patterns.

We agreed that we would cook a bungdunctious meal that would leave everyone regretting their decision to overeat so that left us with the menu to plan. The next rule was that everyone had to participate in preparing the feast, which meant that menu suggestions and cooking would be a part of everyone's responsibility.

We agreed that we would start with turkey roasted over charcoal. Of course, this decision meant that forevermore we would have to celebrate the feast of the smoking bird. After the main course, things got a little more interesting. Heather was excited about the possibility of making traditional Thanksgiving selections and immediately started talking about bread. The discussion that followed led to the next rule. Bread did not mean going to the grocery and buying bread or rolls to heat up before dinner. Bread meant starting with flour, water and yeast.

With the path set, Travis had his turn to pick a menu item. He seemed to be stumped about what he might like add so we asked him what his favorite food was and whether he might like to include that in the gluttony we were planning. His immediate response was, “Pizza!” I think my first reaction was oh no! We cannot possibly think that far out side the pizza box, but wisdom seemed to be in order.

I told him that he would have to start his own bread dough, make the sauce and cut whatever toppings he wanted for the pizza. Rather than dissuading him from this path, he jumped into the enthusiasm of the family project.

Thanksgiving morning we all set out on our chosen menu. All of the selections included lots of time to wait for good things happen under the influence of yeast, smoking charcoal or ice so we had lots of time to listen to Weasel and Bob Here on WHFS or explore my collection of counter culture traditional holiday music. Such classics as Christmas Wrapping, Christmas in Prison, Springsteen's Santa Claus is Coming to Town or the always popular Root Boy Slim Mood Ring for Christmas (Christmas at K-Mart). Of course, this list could not be complete until we got out the vinyl version of Alice's Restaurant, satisfying the holiday and the waiting for the fat lady's joint needs of the day.

Dinner was spectacular, fattening and endearing. The pizza made a wonderful appetizer that became a regular part of our Thanksgiving. In order to maintain the traditional nature of the event, we even concocted stories of pilgrims learning to patiently stalk and capture wild pizzas just for the thrill of the hunt. We were thankful that we had a family together for the holiday, that there was not a war and the kids were glad that they only had to spend one day with my old vinyl.

My holiday memories and traditions, of course, were embellished with the many times I told this story to my classes. I cannot say which parts were completely accurate but the students seemed to look forward to the annual playing of Alice's Restaurant even though it was from a CD now instead of my scratchy old LP. Twenty minutes of Arlo reminding everyone of what life was like in the '60's and a crowd of graying eaves droppers in the hallways outside my class helped the students to see things in their parents and grandparents in a new way. We always had wonderful conversations after the final chorus.

I know that it was really the ultimate self indulgence. After years of not being able to eat Thanksgiving dinner until Arlo was finished, I kept my holiday alive with my students. I heard the song several times each season and know for a fact that the fat lady still has not gotten around to that decade ending toke.

Lee McGavin
Leander, TX 2009

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