Hard Candy: Thanksgiving — That’s Not How We Do Things Down Here

I am supposed to be putting a turkey in the oven, and I will, in a minute. It’s the day before Thanksgiving, but my family rarely eats turkey on Thanksgiving. Which is fine, because I don’t like turkey. I like the leftovers, in the middle of the night, with a cold glass of milk and the refrigerator door leaking yellow light into the kitchen. That’s when it’s good; that’s my real Thanksgiving. One year, during that brief period where I made turkey to make others happy, I sent my Thanksgiving guests home with leftovers and slices of bread. That way they could have turkey sandwiches. That’s why I’m making a turkey today: for those lovely sandwiches, with cornbread dressing, gravy, slabs of turkey, and some cranberries on each slice of bread.

So it’s fitting that this column comes the week after Thanksgiving, when the only turkey in sight comes on a sandwich.

You see, the way I see Thanksgiving is the way I see Florida: that’s not how we do it down here. You’ve heard that before, right? “That’s not how we do it up north!” is a popular refrain in our Florida bakeries, pizzerias and grocery stores. Bagels are better in Manhattan, and Chicago and New York both beat Florida hands down in the pizza arena. Wisconsin cheese reigns as the Dairy King, and everyone knows that Philly has better… well, apparently, everything. Some people might try to tell you we’ve got it wrong down here. No matter what “it” is, it’s not how they do things up north.

To these people, I say: damn straight. Things in the Sunshine State are different. And that’s what I’m thankful for, not just today, or tomorrow, but every day that I wake up in this amazing, messed up, hanging-chad, environmentally compromised, criminally creative, wonderful, backwards, glorious state.

I am thankful that we don’t have bagels the size of a dinner plate. I love that finding a pizza that’s any good is only slightly less difficult than finding the Holy Grail. I’m so happy that our cheese steaks and hard rolls don’t compare to what you had up north. Because that clears the way for Cuban bread (invented by Cubans in Tampa, thank you very much), Gulf shrimp, oysters (yeah, those are all us, too) and key lime and sour orange pies.

I love that I’m sweating in November and that it’s been warm enough that I’ve had my kayak out three times this week. I am glad that you can’t stand the heat, because that means that as crowded as Florida gets, you will never live here in July and that is when we get our state back.

I think it’s fantastic that we have the tension between developers and – well, just about everybody else. It means that we understand that we have something of value, a treasure in this state’s natural bounty that some of us are willing to fight for, no matter the cost. Maybe you don’t have that kind of nonsense up north, but you also don’t have white sand beaches, the Everglades, or a thousand other reasons to spend winters here instead of there.

No, that’s not how we do it down here. You have your pilgrims; we have our Spaniards. Your Thanksgiving celebrates the pilgrims and the Indians, but, as Florida historian Michael Gannon says, “At the time the Pilgrims came to Plymouth, St. Augustine was up for urban renewal.” What’s that now? Yup, St. Augustine predates your northern society by over a century- 1513, to be exact. Turkey and squash? Yeah, that’s not how we do it down here. Our meals with the natives consisted of trout, sheepshead, oyster, heart of palm and shrimp.

We can’t claim Thomas Jefferson or George Washington, but we have Ponce de Leon and Jaques LeMoyne. We have no Davey Crockett, but we have Totch Brown, Everglades pioneer and folk hero. We don’t have the founding fathers, but we do have founding mothers: the three Marjories- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Marjorie Carr, and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. We don’t have Mount Rushmore, the Rockies, or the Appalachian Trail. We do have the Suwannee River, the Florida Keys, and the Everglades.

No, that’s not how you do things up north. You have Thanksgiving with winter coats and Indian corn. We have oyster dressing, cornbread, and, on occasion, deep-fried turkey. It’s Thanksgiving, Florida style, and it’s how we do things down here. Keep your cheese steaks. We can always visit.

Look, I know there’s a lot about Florida that’s messed up. I’m not blind. She’s got her problems – big ones – but I love her. I wouldn’t trade mosquitoes, tiny bagels, and crappy pizza for all the turkey dinners in the world. Because, to me, the way you do things up north is a fancy Thanksgiving dinner, and Florida?

She’s my turkey sandwich.

Contact Cathy Salustri at cathy@theGabber.com.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.