Planning Christmas Dinner
Christmas is a-coming and the geese are getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, then a halfpenny will do
If you haven't got a halfpenny, then God bless you
Damn right the geese are getting fat. They are sitting out in the mowed cornfields around here, eating up a storm. Pretty soon they will waddle like ducks. When they are not eating, they are honking. Not many know that geese can traverse three octaves, and I am not sure that I knew this either, but when I heard one of them launch into the coda, 'these little town blues,’ I knew there was talent. I also knew that 'haff-penny' was pronounced 'hay-penny."
How could we have eaten a goose for Christmas back about 1980? It was my wife's idea. Invite her family, or was it my family, and serve them something different. Her dutiful husband could not write his way out of a paper bag at that time, but he hated turkey with a passion, just like he does now. Her daughter, all of four years old, was excited by the idea of a goose. There was just one problem. Where does one buy a goose?
Supermarkets carried turkey, capons, Cornish hens, game hens, ducks and chickens, but nary a goose. I suggested going to the ethnic markets and selecting one that might be hung in the window of a shop. My wife said I had watched Alistair Sim play Scrooge one too many times. She was not about to pluck feathers. Finally after many calls, she found a goose, or perhaps it was the breast of a goose, in a store of what was then a meat market chain that featured the symbol of the "little butcher".
The idea of combining "little" with "butcher" seemed rather far-fetched to me, but in 1980 I did all my ranting in my head, so I let her have her way. Where she found the recipe for goose I do not know. I don't think we had a Mother Goose cookbook, but from somewhere she found directions that included instructions for stuffing the insides.
All I can recall of the cooking was the pool of blood that gathered in the bottom of the pan, and which rendered the stuffing inedible. I remember blessing myself that we did not stuff it with expensive food like oysters. Why I remember oysters I do not know. We never ate an oyster in my house, either in months ending in 'R' or any other letter.
The other disaster of that holiday was a storm that kept the guests away, so that we had goose for three, or rather two. My daughter ate in abstracts. The idea of a goose was neat, but eat it she would not. She probably had a Philadelphia Cheese Steak, or scrambled eggs. The two of us thought the goose was delicious. We put the leftovers in the refrigerator. In the days to come we made a discovery. We had no dog to feed it to, and no one was writing recipes for leftover goose.
I thought of putting it through the meat grinder we had expropriated from my father's house. This was the Kohinoor diamond of meat grinders. I had youthful memories of watching Mother put my her dried, tough as leather, leftover roast beef through it while Dad turned the crank to make hash. Like my daughter I loved the idea of hash in abstract, but could never eat it. It did not matter. We always had lots of mashed potatoes and my father and brother loved the hash.
I got the grinder out and found that my wife must have let my daughter play with it at some point. While I could assemble it, the nuts and bolts that held it together were missing. At least I had part of it, which was more than I could say for the key ring that held the keys to the safe deposit box along with the key for draining the radiators in the house. My wife let my daughter play with these one day and they disappeared down a mouse hole. I warn you and the Federal Reserve, somewhere in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania there is a lock box with an ancient insurance policy and the title to a 1975 Beetle.
I don't remember what we did with the leftover goose. We didn’t mail it to my in-laws. They had already received their fruitcake for the season. That was back in the days before fruitcake went out of style. Now it is considered almost chic to give or get a fruitcake; they have become so 'out' they are almost ‘in’.
Something told the wild goose that it was time to go,
Though the fields were golden, something whispered snow.
I doubt that our geese are going anywhere until next summer, but the idea of having goose again for the holidays appeals to me. I put it up for a vote among the family here. The cat argued for opening a can of tuna and letting her lick out the insides after I dump the contents, but the dog was all for it. So the motion carried by a two-to-one vote. When I told the dog it would be up to her to catch a goose, she looked startled. The cat snickered, "I told you so."
This morning I pushed her out into the field beyond the trees. I heard a lot of noise. I tiptoed through the trees, gazed and listened more closely. The dog was hunched down watching them. They had moved to the other end of the cornfield. They had lifted the voices in song.
"I heer-ear the noise of wings.
Oh come Angel Band
Come and around me stand
Oh bear me away on your snowy wings
To my eeemortal home-ome'
My eyes filled with tears. I had never heard it sung quite so poignantly. I wrote myself a note to have this gaggle sing at my funeral. I noticed that they were being led by a woman dressed in a choir gown and holding a wooden crook in her hand. When the chorus had ended with a reprise of the last line, she raised her crook toward the dog and told her "be off with you." She saw me in the trees.
"Is this your dog?"
I saw that it was the lady from the now closed-for-the-season vegetable stand.
"Yes, she likes geese."
"Well, happens to be that geese don't like her. She can't carry a tune."
"Are you the goose lady? Are these your geese?"
"You might call me that. Actually, I am watching them fatten up so that one can be our Christmas dinner."
"You had the same idea as the dog and I."
"That's funny! By the way, what do you do with the leftover goose?"
"Put it in a box and mail it off as a fruitcake."
"Never thought of that. I make ratatouille. It gets rid of the zucchini that we could not sell. Wanna buy some cheap?"
"Zucchini? I don't think so, not unless it tastes like tuna. And the more I think of it, I don't think we will have goose for Christmas. We will go back to plan 1."
"A hearty bowl of bouillabaisse followed by a rousing game of Duck, Duck, Goose. Now all I have to do is find some oysters."