While others will be fixated on the turkey this week, another animal always grabs my Thanksgiving-tide attention.
No, the Finneys do not sit down to a literal equine family feast. Step off, FDA! After four years in Italy, though, I have, shall we say, dined on numerous occasions with Mr. Ed. Turns out, he is not the most pleasant company. More red sauce on top, per favore!
Thankfully, horses in this country aren’t for eating; they’re for watching — and for gambling the kids’ tuition.
This Thanksgiving, we’ll be back at the Fair Grounds.
Our family tradition has added furlongs in recent years. For almost a decade, morning Mass and afternoon lunch have sandwiched three or four races at the track and, on good years, half as many Bloody Marys.
The traditional opening of the horse racing season finds us galloping behind those who have come before us. My grandfather loved to scan back to a time when horse racing and prize fighting were our city’s finest sports. The NFL, dear reader, is still a pup in a tricentennial town.
To the fighting, my great-great-grandmother, I’m told, would describe the line of carriages running from Chartres to Royal and Montegut for the famous 1892 Corbett and Sullivan bout. The horse racing is an even deeper imprint — and not just because no Gentleman Jim Corbett plaque has been placed on that Bywater street corner. Metairie Cemetery is in an oval for more than aesthetics and aggravating route recall. The Fair Grounds is the second oldest track in the nation.
The racetrack on the fourth Thursday in November is a little different than, say, the second Wednesday in February. Railbird Ronnie and Black Cat Lacombe make for better costumes on one of those days — and look a little less uplifting on a cold, rainy winter afternoon.
And people do dress up for a track Thanksgiving. In the costumer’s favorite city, the dirt track becomes our red carpet. With the Saints hosting the Bills Thanksgiving night, I have coaxed Jen into a Mike Ditka-Ricky Williams tribute. At least, I think I have.
Another benefit of mixing your turkey and horses can be any company at all. Holidays can be lonely times for many. The Fair Grounds Grandstand has a good spread and (for those who quickly make a reservation) always room at the table. If it is a day to be alone, best to be alone together.
And after a year of absence for everyone, we could all use a little togetherness. Thanksgiving at the Fair Grounds is also another marker of our return to normal. And what a wonderful world it is that hustling from a final Mass blessing of a bottle of wine to cheering on animals carrying humans on their backs is normal.
My betting strategy, not that you asked, is to find a value play — and then make it a trifecta (which means selecting the exact placement of the first, second, and third finishers). It’s quite at odds with my father’s, who takes the second or third betting favorite and places a wager to show (which means he gets a small payout for the horse finishing first, second, or third). When you’re only betting a couple bucks, is there a point in making cents on the dollar? Also, what do sociologists even mean by the term “generational differences?” Why not try to hit it big?
And big, I’ve hit.
Once, many years and bets ago, I won 30 dollars. In American currency. Like a middling golfer, it’s that one hit that keeps me coming back — and keeps me from wondering if my many other selections ever even made it back to the paddock.
That and those Bloody Marys.
This Thanksgiving enjoy our slow trot back to normal. And if you’re fortunate enough to make it to the track, give Mike and Ricky a tip on a longshot in the third.
For the city’s 300th, WYES did a spot on the Fair Grounds. Learn a few things about the spot — and the apparent disagreement on the meaning of second and third oldest.
And if you’re new to the event, get a taste of the wardrobes — and a brief cameo by your favorite blog boy.
At my first parish, this prayer was taped to loaves of bread distributed at the Thanksgiving Mass. Find some time for thanks this week.
I am thankful…
For the teenager who is complaining about doing dishes,
because that means she is at home and not on the streets.
For the taxes that I pay,
because it means that I am employed.
For the mess to clean after a party,
because it means that I have been surrounded by friends.
For the clothes that fit a little too snug,
because it means I have enough to eat.
For my shadow that watches me work,
because it means I am out in the sunshine.
For a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing,
because it means I have a home.
For all the complaining I hear about the government,
because it means that we have freedom of speech.
For the parking spot I find at the far end of the parking lot,
because it means I am capable of walking and have been blessed with transportation.
For my huge utility bill,
because it means I am cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
For the parishioner behind me in church who sings off key,
because it means that I can hear.
For the pile of laundry and ironing,
because it means I have clothes to wear.
For weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day,
because it means I have been capable of working hard.
For the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours,
because it means that I am alive.
And finally, I am thankful for Jesus,
because he taught us that we have a loving heavenly Father,
because he is mindful of our every need,
because he will see us through every dark hour.
Did I just thank Entergy?! Faith does call us up… Happy Thanksgiving!