Thanksgiving is just a couple of days away, and I thought I would share the following, in the spirit of things. Just to give you some background, in my previous job, I was responsible for a regular article on whatever topic struck me at the time. You know how the first rule of writing is that you should write about what you know? This is the first attempt, from November 2000, and I have to tell you, it's all true. Really.
The Sad Truth About Turkey Tendons
(Originally published in the Jeffline Forum, November 2000)
Working in an academic setting, you often hear about the difficulty researchers have in getting their work published. Often, the subject is the problem – if you haven’t been studying the “hot topic,” it can seem that no one cares what you have to say. A few weeks ago, a library patron told me that he was trying to find recent studies about Hepatitis A. He was finding many reports on Hepatitis B and especially Hepatitis C; but Hepatitis A seemed to have gone out of fashion.
I can appreciate this dilemma. When I first moved to Philadelphia, a notice in the Food Section of the Philadelphia Inquirer caught my eye. They asked readers to submit a brief story about unique family Thanksgiving traditions. Three stories would be published on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I knew I had something truly unique to send them.
My father, who grew up on a poultry farm, was the family expert on Thanksgiving turkey. The night before Thanksgiving was always a big night. After cleaning the turkey, it was time for my father’s special innovation: tendon pulling! According to my father, if you pulled the tendons out of drumsticks before cooking, it made them easier to eat. We got the pliers out, and everyone got ready to take their turn. At the end of the drumsticks, there are often small holes, with pinkish-white tips sticking out. Those are the tendons. You take the pliers, hold the drumstick tightly, and try to pull the tendons out. It’s fun for the entire family!
I have never met anyone else who even knew about turkey tendon pulling, so I decided this story would be a perfect candidate for the “unique” Thanksgiving tradition the Inquirer was seeking. I figured if my story wasn’t chosen, the others that were published would have to be really unusual. So imagine my extreme dismay when I opened the Food Section on the Sunday before Thanksgiving and read the winning entries.
Story #1: A woman whose mother had been in the hospital on Thanksgiving had taken a complete dinner to her so they could have their holiday meal together. Her mother died shortly afterwards. Every year, she continues to take an entire meal to that hospital for any of the nursing staff that has to work on the holiday.
Story #2: A couple who were in the military and stationed in Germany one Thanksgiving invited their German neighbors to celebrate with them.
Story #3 (supposedly the best) was about a woman whose son had the flu one year during the week of Thanksgiving. The night before, to cheer him up, they had baked special pumpkin cookies together. Even though the boy was now 20-something, he still made sure he could be home the night before Thanksgiving to bake cookies with his mother.
You can understand my dismay. These stories are heartwarming, feel-good stories; they may reflect lovely traditions. But am I the only one who doesn’t find them unique? My husband kindly said that maybe the Inquirer didn’t think my story was true, being somewhat unusual. Could I have invented something that good? Maybe it was too unique for the Inquirer; they probably felt it would be more appropriate for the New York Post; right under a headline like “Family of Five Fancies Festive Fowl Fun!”
I did learn a lesson. It applies as well to the researchers who write their research reports, only to find that no one is interested in the topic. I learned not to expect that editors would be interested in introducing the public to the finer points of turkey tendon pulling; all they want is something the readers would expect at Thanksgiving, featuring a mother, a sick kid, and a cookie recipe.