THIS STARTED as a simple essay about Thanksgiving, but when I think of Thanksgiving, I think about yams, and that's where the problems come in.
The truth is, I have never liked yams and have a vague distrust of people who do. The fact is that yams have no business in a trad . . . wait a minute.
Before we go any further here, let me say one thing: I don't want to hear from the yam lobby on this one, OK?
Nor do I want to get a lot of phone calls and letters from irate yam lovers (who tend to be cranky and overly sensitive to begin with) charging me with yam-bashing -- or 'yam-ism,' if there is such a thing.
If you like yams, that is certainly your privilege -- although it should be noted that the yam-buying public is becoming an increasingly isolated segment of the population. A demographic blip, really.
All I'm trying to do is deal with a difficult subject (yam-hating vis-a-vis the traditional Thanksgiving dinner) in an open and honest manner. So let's get on with it.
My early recollections of yams are disturbing ones that date back to the age of 7 or thereabouts.
I remember eating Thanksgiving dinner at a rickety card table in a small alcove with the rest of the children while the adults ate and drank and laughed themselves silly at the main table.
Obviously, when you're reduced to eating off a card table with your Ritalin-deficient little sister and two other runny-nosed brats, something is terribly amiss in your life.
Anyway, things went even further downhill when my mother suddenly materialized at my side carrying a steaming hot dish of . . . something. Something that looked sort of like a potato, except it was orange-colored.
"These are yams!" my mother said in that gooey, overly cheerful voice that adults use to ward off an impending scene. "Try some. You'll like them!"
As it had not yet dawned on me that mom was an inveterate liar about food -- and God knows why it hadn't, what with all the propaganda she had drummed into our heads about cabbage and liver being delicious -- I dutifully tasted the yams.
Well, as any thinking person knows, they were absolutely awful -- although I was not about to say that to any of the adults present.
Let's face it: A person relegated to eating dinner at a rickety card table is hardly brimming with self-confidence.
In fact, I was afraid that if I complained about the yams, I'd end up eating off a steamer trunk in the attic.
The incident stayed with me, though, triggering a lifelong aversion to the evil little root.
(By the way, the yam is indeed a root -- a starchy tuberous root of various plants. I learned this in elementary school when they showed us one of those grainy black-and-white movies with an appropriately sappy title -- "The Yam: Pride of Nature's Breadbasket."
(Anyway, as the audio-visual squad nerd rewound the film, our teacher launched into an impassioned soliloquy about what a XTC marvelous food source yams were.
(Me, I just sat there thinking: What kind of a sick person goes around picking big, dirty roots out of the ground AND STICKING THEM IN HIS MOUTH!)
What gets me about yam lovers is the way they try to foist their nauseating habit on others, instead of realizing the level of discomfort yams can provoke in the non-yam-eating public.
I can't tell you how many Thanksgiving dinners I've sat through where everything is going along hunky-dory -- until the conversation takes an ominous turn:
Hostess: "Have some yams."
Me: "Well . . . maybe later."
Hostess: "Oh, c'mon!"
Me: "There's no room on my plate . . ."
Hostess: "They're really delicious!"
Me: "LOOK, I DON'T WANT ANY YAMS, OK?!"
By this time, of course, the meal is officially ruined. With tears welling in her eyes, the hostess bolts from the table. The rest of the guests exchange uneasy glances or stare at their plates before quietly excusing themselves to watch the football game on TV.
And I'm the heavy. Just because I don't like yams -- even though I like everything else on the table.
Although let me say this: If you've ever visited a turkey farm and watched one of those stupid, ugly birds being butchered, you would never eat another turkey.
Believe me, you would sooner eat a Cocker spaniel. Or even a yam.
Yams. Please, don't get me started.