Black eye on the holidays

November 30, 2012 

Most Thanksgivings aren't terribly memorable, at least for me.

I catch up with family. I eat too much cornbread dressing. I take a nap. It's all very pleasant, and it all blends in with Thanksgivings past.

But this latest one will stand out like a black eye.

It happened late in the fourth quarter of the Turkey Bowl.

See, for the past 40 years or so my mother's side of the family has celebrated Thanksgiving at the camp and retreat center that my parents run across the river in Chambers County.

Over the years, through the miracle of reproduction, this gathering has grown from 11 people (my grandmother and five sets of aunts and uncles) to more than 70 people (the five sets of aunts and uncles plus 14 cousins, spouses and their 35 children). This doesn't include friends, roommates, exchange students, boyfriends and girlfriends, and the occasional pet.

Not everybody shows up every year, of course. Some people, like my wife, believe that her own family's Thanksgiving celebration rivals mine and insists that we alternate between Alabama and Tennessee.

This was an Alabama year for us. About 60 people showed up, and about 40 of them played in the Turkey Bowl.

The Turkey Bowl is a highly competitive football game held on the camp ballfield, which always sports a big turkey spray-painted on the 50-yard line and toilet paper rolls painted orange to mark the goal lines.

It's usually a defensive struggle, thanks to a loosely enforced "Three Mississippi" rush count and a rule that states that once you catch a pass you can't catch another until everyone else on your team catches one too.

This rule exists so that each of the players, who range in age from 3 years old to 50, will get the opportunity to feel like a winner.

Or loser.

Two things happen every year.

First, the team that gets my cousin from Florida will win. This cousin has three children now, but he's still in his early thirties and by far the most athletic person in the family, and he always plays free safety and violently breaks up every pass whether it's intended for an adult or an infant.

Second, one man over the age of 40 will get hurt in some visible way. One year one of my uncles had a mangled shoulder that was eventually repaired at the Mayo Clinic.

This year did not disappoint. Late in the fourth quarter, with my team behind by only two points against my Florida cousin's team, I ran a deep route and my Augusta cousin's husband threw me a nice spiral.

I reached out to grab the ball and the glory, and then, to quote John Madden: "Boom!"

I was lying on my back, unsure of whether I'd just lost my eye, nose, cheekbone or sinus cavity.

As it turned out, I'd lost nothing, but everything was inflating like a balloon. My father, the ref

eree, had chosen that moment to enforce the "Three Mississippi" rule and had missed the interference call.

My Florida cousin informed me that he wasn't hurt, confirming my suspicion that his chin is harder than my eye socket.

So that's how I got a black eye at Thanksgiving.

It's slowly fading. Naturally, people have since asked me which bar I was in when the fight started, or what I said to my wife to make her angry.

It's good for a laugh. I hope next Thanksgiving isn't as memorable.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, can be reached at

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