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  • Susan Welsh

Tom Petty, Turkey Loaf and Hometown Blues

The first Tom Petty songs I fell for were the ones from his debut album. I listened to "Hometown Blues" and "Breakdown" over and over again one lonely Thanksgiving in 1983 when I spent the holiday with my college roommate in Phoenix.

Across the 400 plus mile drive from Malibu the transition from the chaparral to the Sonoran Desert was palpable. Losing sight of the Pacific Ocean left me feeling untethered. Somehow the songs and lyrics of Tom Petty soothed the emptiness of spending a holiday away from home in a desert town where we ate Frozen Turkey Loaf for dinner and drank reheated coffee for breakfast.

I had never heard of Turkey Loaf and had certainly never seen it anywhere before. I was appropriately skeptical and wholly dejected at the prospect of this frozen, rectangular box starring in the culinary show I was used to calling Thanksgiving Dinner. I'm not ashamed to call myself a food snob but know that I was wholly appreciative of the generosity of these fine, kind people who had invited me into their home. They simply had different ideas about food, no doubt in part due to economics and upbringing. But I missed home and my people, and most of all my Mom's home-cooking.

This ad for Festive Turkey Loaf & Gravy, in an ironic twist of proofreading oversight, or use of a sheerly unfortunate choice in adjectives, describes the product succinctly-- "gray, white meat".

Thanksgiving at home was a groaning board of traditional options-- asparagus casserole, candied sweet potatoes, and multiple pies. My mother and aunt set the table with cloth napkins, a hand-embroidered tablecloth and my great grandmother's china and silverware--those demi-tasse cups of coffee whose delicacy I have always adored and associated with gracefulness, old-world civility and my ties to a more genteel era.

Back to the present. Thanksgiving is around the corner and I'll volunteer to make a pie--whatever kind my mother asks me to make. She will bake her traditional pumpkin pie with homemade crust and the recipe from the back of the Libby's Real Pumpkin can.

I'll eat just enough to leave room for a slice or two of pie and I'll scoop up an extra spoonful or three of asparagus casserole while I help clean up the kitchen. I'll sip endless tiny cups of coffee into the evening and have weird memories of a lonely, but ultimately memorable Thanksgiving. I will feel doubly blessed--for the kindness of relative strangers and the bounty and predictability of Thanksgiving at home. This year I'll play an extra round of Tom Petty, in remembrance of things past.

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