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The Fattig family Thanksgiving feast I wish to forget

When you're a little kid looking across the table at a roasted rodent with its little legs sticking up in the air, it's hard to give thanks on Turkey Day.

And really, truly mean it.

What brings this up, so to speak, are unappetizing memories of Thanksgiving Day in Kerby, circa 1960.

That Thanksgiving our dad decided we would forgo the traditional stuffed turkey. In place of the big bird we would be supping on wild beasts killed with our own hands.

Our father was old school. Born in 1906 in Ashland, he was reared in the Applegate Valley where his family farmed. Hunting and fishing were a way of life.

When he was married with children, he lost his leg in a horrific logging accident, ending his forays into the wild. The responsibility for the Thanksgiving beast acquisition that year fell to the eldest of his five children, Jim Bridger Fattig.

As befitting someone named after the famous mountain man, the young teenager did not disappoint. That fall, he slew a black bear, a four-point buck, some quail and at least one gray squirrel — the rodent at the table.

As a 9-year-old, I was worried about the gastronomic challenges awaiting us that day. In addition, there was my twin brother, George, and the other two twins — Charles and Delores — who were 10. I suspect they were also cringing at the prospects of a beastly dinner.

Granted, I've always been a gutless coward when it comes to consuming strange cuisine. Yet, due to circumstances beyond my control, I would dine on a few stomach-challenging items over the years.

There was the porcupine we siblings roasted on a spit over a fire during a hungry hunting trip as a child. It would have been better to bypass the porcupine and eat the stick it was roasted on.

My stomach still churns at the memory.

Nor can I forget the Marine Corps chow back in the late 1960s and early '70s. A fellow jarhead insisted the trick to eating SOS was simple: Just watch it for a while to make sure nothing crawls out of the evil-looking substance, then wolf it down before the tastebuds can launch a counter attack.

Later, while working as a journalist in Alaska, I sank my teeth into walrus and muktuk — raw whale blubber.

Walrus is an acquired taste. Imagine biting into a slab of stringy dark meat laced with globs of white fat. It tastes far worse than it sounds.

As for muktuk, it's akin to chomping down on the sole of an old tennis shoe soaked for a year in a vat of dead fish. The aftertaste alone made me blubber.

Then there was the thing dished up from the bottom of the stew pot in an orphanage in Vietnam in 1999. To this day, I'm not sure whether it was animal or vegetable. I fear it was the former and had something to do with reproductive parts.

But the meal that takes the cake was our family Thanksgiving dinner half a century ago.

Granted, the wonderfully historic little burg of Kerby two dozen miles south of Grants Pass was a place frozen in time.

Back then, it wasn't unusual to see a pickup roaring down Kerby's mean street with the feet of a slain beast sticking out the back. We were always game for wild game.

Still, most Kerby dwellers opted for domesticated stuffed turkey on the fourth Thursday in November. Feral critters were safe that day.

Our mom was a wonderful person with a big heart who loved us all with every ounce of her being. She was decency personified.

But, as much as it grieves me to admit, she couldn't cook for beans.

Actually, she could cook beans exceedingly well. It was when she cooked more complicated cuisine that she blazed culinary trails few cooks dared follow.

Take her green tomato pies. Please.

If my admittedly Swiss-cheese memory serves, for our Thanksgiving meal she put the meat and garden vegetables en masse into the same roasting pan. The beastly melee included a huge chunk of bruin, a large hunk of venison, plucked quail and the skinned rodent.

Bear is not as greasy as walrus, but it comes within a whisker. The result was venison, quail, squirrel and veggies deep fried in bear tallow.

The smell of the wild game filled our small house with an aroma hinting of a broiling hot day during wildebeest rutting season on the Serengeti.

Even the carrots were gamey and greasy. The fowl was beyond foul. And there was the poor little roasted rodent with his legs sticking up in the air.

But our mom saved the day with her homemade pumpkin pie baked in a perfect golden crust. The pumpkin carried not a whiff of bear.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.