Call a person a turkey, and you might be using fighting words. But I can make an exception and even construe the moniker as a compliment.
Let me explain:
My mother, Marie, served two two-year terms as San Miguel County Treasurer back in the early ‘60s. It was customary (maybe it still is) for bankers to gift elected officials on Thanksgiving for their services.
Mom died early this century and is therefore unable to explain things in detail. But suffice to say that the three main banks in Las Vegas customarily delivered a frozen turkey for Mom and her family to enjoy. I assume other elected county officials also dined on gifted turkeys for the occasion.
Mom and my dad, J.D., would have been thrilled to have greeted the generous bankers bearing gifts and would have demanded they sit down and join us for homemade tamales — the kind only Mom could make.
The only trouble was that my parents chose that week to visit my older sister, Dorothy, who lived in San Diego at that time.
I watched as the late Ivan Hilton stepped onto our sidewalk on the 900 block of Railroad Avenue in late November 1964. I answered the door; he asked for my mother, but I explained she and Dad were out of state. I feared that bit of news might cause Ivan Hilton, then president of the First National Bank, not to leave the frozen turkey, but he did, as he bade me happy Thanksgiving.
A day later, Dale Gerdeman, with what was then the Las Vegas Savings Bank, now Southwest Capital, showed up at our house with a familiar frozen thing, and by then I began to see a pattern.
A third turkey arrived later that day, but we never got to see the Santa who delivered it. There was no greeting card or other way of identifying the product, and we assumed it had come from First Federal Savings and Loan.
Through the years, I’ve been able to piece together this Thanksgiving ritual: Because the treasurer’s office has extensive dealings with local banks, it was customary to talk turkey.
At the time, I’d been taking classes at Highlands, after a five-year hiatus, and hung around with Alex Marquez, whose parents, Orlando and Vicenta, owned a grocery store close to my house. I told Alex about the serendipitous plight I was in: Three frozen turkeys and no clue as to what to do. Alex suggested we ask his mother for help. She’d raised a large family and obviously knew how to prepare serial turkeys.
She whipped out a recipe book on the A-B-Cs of preparing the best possible procedures for producing impeccably perfect poultry, and surprisingly, each gobbler came out to perfection.
But it hadn’t been that simple: Alex and I discovered that deep into the oral cavity of the first gobbler was a small package which we surmised contained small tools to anchor parts of the turkey into the oven. That was in pre-microwave days, and had it not been — well, you all know what happens when one puts the pedal to the metal inside a microwave and cooks them together.
Alex and I managed quite an efficient assembly line, cooking all the turkeys on a very long day.
Alex spent hours at my house while we savored drumsticks as if they were lollipops. But sometimes, too much of a good thing can be counter-productive. After all, we lacked the usual fixings: mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and other stuff.
Well, we got more than our fill of turkey and soon realized each succeeding mouthful wasn’t as good as the one before.
The poultry consumption somehow made us crave something sweet. Alex’s mother provided me with a recipe book that explained how to make cashew brittle. Spurred by the desire to swallow something sweet and crunchy, we went to Newberry’s, then a large department store where Price’s Furniture now stands.
Armed with a pound or two of cashews, we went back to the Marquez home, where Mrs. Marquez reached for her recipe book, which she had loaned me for each of several Thanksgivings.
We had a craving for brittle, but it couldn’t be anything as mundane as peanut brittle; this had to contain cashews. So, with raw cashews in hand, purchased from Newberry’s at Sixth and Douglas, we borrowed Alex’s mom’s recipe book for cashew brittle.
The tradition by no means ended that fall season; on the contrary, that was the start of a turkey and cashew brittle regimen. And each year we feasted on the turkey and the cashew brittle, and we must have borrowed the same recipe book a half dozen times.
I’ve never forgotten the help Mrs. Marquez provided. In return, we made sure she and her large family got to sample both of the specialties.
And yet, and yet . . . as the current copy editor for the Las Vegas Optic, I was saddened to have needed to proofread the obituary for Mrs. Vicenta Marquez, mother of nine, widow of Orlando Marquez. She passed away earlier this month.
The near-capacity showing at Vicenta’s funeral is a good indication of the love and respect many people had for her.
• • •
My older sisters Dolores, Dorothy and Bingy, spent many hours in their teens babysitting for the Marquez children. Each time I see Alex, the oldest of the brood, I tell others, “I used to babysit for Alex,” as I refer to a boy who was barely three years younger than I.
That’s when Alex corrected me and explained that my older sisters used to babysit for Alex’s younger sisters. And he’d add, “We’d bring Art to our house so he could see how normal people behave.”
If itinerant turkey providers hang a chubby bit of frozen poultry on your front door some Thanksgiving, try to combine it with cashew brittle.
The two items make a great combination.