I ate roadkill at Christmas.
I love going home for the holidays. When I walk in my parent's house, familiar smells from the stove reach out to hug me before my mother can. She rushes over, fluttering her long red fingernails as if piping me aboard. She wears felt Minnie Mouse antlers, candy cane socks and a sweater vest with sequined snowmen. I spy dangling ornament earrings.
She's smart. Before I left Texas for New York City, she taught me how to whistle for a cab. She's a good cook. One year her pinto bean recipe won first prize at the Texas State Fair.
Curiosity pulls me in the kitchen. Dark red meat marinates in a bowl.
"What's this?" I ask.
"Ostrich," my mother replies.
My parents live on a ranch east of Dallas. Sorry to squash fantasies of me in nothing but overalls and headphones, driving a tractor, dancing to Let's Hear it For the Boy; but as outlined in my memoir, The Pink Marine, I was raised in the USMC, not on the ranch. They bought it later for recreation. It was; however, a working ranch for a spell. They raised pygmy goats, Brangus cattle, Araucana chickens, emus and ostriches.
There was a time when a prized broodmare ostrich fetched $25,000.
I ask why we get to have such a swanky meal.
"One of our prized broodmares dropped dead in her pen," she says. "We're not wasting that. Meet Christmas dinner."
Having a $25,000 ostrich for dinner should mean inviting her as a guest. Maybe buying her a tiara, using place cards and the good silver.
I need more information.
"How'd she die?" I clip the die to di. My Texas accent comes back as soon as the plane's landing gear touches Dallas soil.
"We don't exactly know. That bird just dropped dead. We harvested the skin and feathers. We got about 200 pounds of meat," my mother TMIed. (Most elements of an ostrich get used: skin, meat, feathers. Decorators accessorize with the empty eggs.)
"How do you know she wasn't sick and the meat isn't rancid?" I ask.
"Oh, it's fine," she says. "We fed it to the dogs for five days and nothing happened."
I cringe as my mother shares her process. I fear logic is hereditary.
"So we have roadkill for Christmas dinner?" I ask.
Surely meant to calm me, she winks. She stabs at the meat and turns it over in the bowl filled with who-knows-what marinade. I realize this sweet woman changed my diapers when I was a baby, but at this moment I wonder if she did it immediately or finished watching her soap opera first.
"Go help your brother set the table," she says. "And use linen napkins. We're having a goddamn $25,000 bird for dinner."
I added the goddamn. Tomorrow I'll know breakfast is ready not from the smell of bacon; but from the pitter patter of my mother's little feet clad in jingle-belled house shoes.
Ostrich is delicious -- it tastes like if chicken were really great beef.
I'm happy to be most places, but I do love home.