(Ray Wylie Hubbard reference)

This one really has nothing much to do with cancer, if anything at all. It is more about Christmas. I guess the hope is that someone who is in pain or fear will read it and laugh, and I only write it because I was chatting with another cancer survivor earlier this morning and she indicated that it made her laugh.

It may be that she has an odd sense of humor. I know I do.

Here is the cancer connection, to satisfy the purists: I cannot eat goose meat anymore. At least, I cannot eat it now, and I have not been able to do so for the last three years, for reasons that are apparent to anyone that has followed this blog.

I had never eaten goose meat before I married. I had eaten a few exotic meats, including bear and moose and duck, but not goose. It simply never showed up on the family menu or in any of the fine establishments we habituated back then, me the oldest of six kids whose dad was in the US Navy and whose mom did not work outside of the home, if you catch my drift, and I think you do: we were not into swank.

And, we didn’t eat goose. It never even crossed my mind to eat a goose. Every year, at Thanksgiving, we had turkey. Every year at Christmas, we had turkey. And every year at Easter, we had ham. I thought it was part of our religion, I really did. Just as surely as fish sticks were on for Friday night :).

When I married, the first Christmas I spent with my in-laws (my first Christmas as a married man, by the way), they had all kinds of weird stuff on the table. They had these long green things that looked to me like mutant weeds. They called them asparagus. They had something called potato filling. Don’t ask. I still do not know what is in potato filling. Suffice it that if there were laws for abusing perfectly good potatoes, my mother in law would be doing 40-to-life.

There were these cheeseballs??? They were rather white, but covered in pecans or something. My brother-in-law swallowed them like they were a cure for something. I tried one and nearly gagged. They were cheeseballs, I think they call them. Cream cheese (which I have never liked) rolled in pecan, um, stuff.

An exotic time for me, for sure. And there was the meat. The darkest meat I had ever seen. And I already knew that her dad ate some pretty weird stuff, like Rocky Mountain oysters, and cow brain, and turtle soup, and fried frog legs, and just about anything, frankly, that would gross out normal people.

Did I mention the time the cow’s tongue was lying on a plate in front of us? If I did not, it is because I am trying to block it out.

And there was the dark, greasy meat.

It was goose meat. One platter of goose meat, one platter of turkey meat, as I recall. I opted, for the most part, for the turkey, but thought I should try everything, so I slid a couple of small pieces of goose meat onto my plate, along with one of those cheese balls, along with one of those weird looking asparagus spears, along with potato filling, and, I think, everything, a little bit of everything, on the table. I did not, under any circumstances, want to upset the natives, especially my in-laws.

It turns out that my brother-in-law can have all of the cheeseballs he wants. I loathe them. It turns out that I am not particularly covetous of potato filling, although I eat it and it is not so bad with goose gravy on it.

It turns out that those asparagus spears are pretty darned good, and I DO covet them. It turns out that the rolls are sweet and succulent and that the goose meat is the best meat I have ever eaten (in a family setting).

It turns out that if you cook a goose correctly, something my new mother-in-law apparently does with distinction, people will KILL to eat your goose!

No one is killing, of course. We are all polite. Except for me. I am forking more of the goose every chance I get, I am pouring more of the goose giblet gravy onto my other stuff every chance I get. I am being a troll, a beast, a Viking, a rude dude.

But I do it politely, and, of course, my mother-in-law appears to be eating it up, pardon the pun.

Let me tell you how much I enjoyed that goose: within a year or so, there was not one, no, there were two geese being cooked at that house if we were there. That is how much I enjoyed the goose.

And here is something else: after Christmas dinner, later in the evening, when people were fixing leftovers, I had a sandwich. It was two pieces of bread, goose meat, asparagus, potato filling, and mayo. I might have had two. I was in love all over again.

They were rather forced from then on to cook two geese, so that I could have one, including leftovers, and they could enjoy the other among them.<We now flash forward to quite a few years later. Maybe 10. I am in Texas. My family, that is, the side of the family that is my mom and dad and brothers and sisters, we are all in Texas. A minor miracle to get us all there, but there we are.

My brother is renting a place out in the country. He is gifted in ways that I will never imagine. He is great with his hands, an excellent mechanic, plumber, carpenter, whatever needs to be done, it seems he can do it. And he is intelligent, beyond all of that. My little brother is living in this place and has bought some incubated chicks, and is now raising chickens on the place! That is the kind of guy he is.

Some of you will wonder, so what's the deal? But he had never done it before, decided to do it, and did it well. The eggs he ate came from his own coop.

That is beside the point, but I am really proud of the little fellow. He's done good for himself.

Now, my in-laws are coming down for Christmas, and we decide to do something special, and we, my wife and I, my wife principally, buy a couple of geese. They are alive. They have webbed feet, and feathers and beaks, and they squawk and they run: they are alive.

Naturally, we take them to my brother's little farm, and ask him to care for them until right before Christmas, and he agrees. So he deals with these creatures, which are, frankly, genetically ornery, I think, for several weeks prior to the arrival of my in-laws from far-off Virginia.

He never does tell me all of the hell he has gone through, my brother, in raising these beasts. In retrospect, I suspect he went through a lot. They are BEASTS.

If I remember correctly, we arrive at Bill’s house (that is my brother’s name, not Bill’s house…just Bill) the day before Christmas, and are there to do the birds, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. If you are misconstruing, then shame on you :).

The first order of business is to catch them. It seems easy enough. But, well, (wince) in Texas we do things a bit differently. Or at least we did then. At least WE did :). Catching the geese required that we first drink a few beers. Quite a few. None of us had cut off a goose’s head, ever, although Billy had fried chicken all the time. I’m just saying.

They were out in the coop enjoying their time on Earth, and I was drinking beer and making a lasso, of all things, and I finally went out into the coop and tried to wrangle me a goose!

That is Texas. Honestly. That sort of thing happens in Texas. It is not all steer and rodeo and buckin’ bronco. There is a huge heaping of stupidity, too. At least there was when I lived there :).

Maybe it has diminished in my absence.

I went into the coop and started chasing geese. Now, the first thing you have to do, if you are chasing geese with a lasso, is to decide which goose you are chasing. I had some problems with that due to their strategic and tactical maneuvering. While they, therefore, were optimizing their opportunities, minimizing movement and fooling the heck out of me with jukes and jumps, I was running myself out of breath. And this was long before anyone even remotely thought of taking a lobe from my right lung.

I chased them in true Pecos Bill fashion, and everyone was laughing so hard they were regurgitating breakfast, some of them, and … I finally gave up on the rope, realizing that the one thing that separated me from these geese was my inferior technology. I was not a gaucho, I was not a cowboy, in other words, I was simply a warrior. I decided to use my hands.

Some of the same problems continued to present themselves, in that the geese were more agile, quicker, and less drunk.

Not necessarily in that order, I assure, as I occasionally stopped to replenish the liquids in my body, albeit, I knew, for a very brief time (due to dehydration), thus the necessity to continuously stop and replenish.

I finally got one of the geese. Finally. I do not know how, but I finally grabbed one by the neck, at which time I discovered they had the strength, in their necks alone, of any 10 men I’d ever come across.

Holding on to a goose’s neck is like holding on to a boa constrictor, one that is about 40 feet long, one that is 40 feet long and angry, one that is 40 feet long, angry, and hungry, one that is 40 feet long, angry, hungry, and you are the only meal in miles.

I held on, gentle readers. I did.

Did you know that geese can bite? Just wondering.

I didn’t. Not until then.

But I held on.

We took him or her, I never checked, as he/she never gave me the opportunity, to the chopping block, and I left it to others to do the next deed.

As a friend on this site pointed out, you never want to give names to creatures that you are going to eat, and I never named the geese, but if I had, given the subsequent experience, this one would have been named SOB. All caps.

Eventually, both animals were, um, ready, in so far as they did not have heads anymore, and we had the issue of plucking them. Everyone had ideas, and we used them all. Getting rid of the big feathers was not a big deal. The pin feathers, however, proved to be a problem.

We boiled, we waxed, we blackened, we skinned…heck…a lot of women (and men, I suppose) would pay big money for the kind of treatment these geese got as we tried to remove pin feathers (okay, maybe not the skinning, but you never know, do you?).

Finally, we decided, I guess, that we were getting hungry. The primitive was coming out in us. We cooked them. Mmmm… they smelled great. My mother-in-law CAN cook a goose.

BUT…eating them proved to be an entirely new experience, as we were constantly having to pull pin feather nubs from our teeth. Not mom-in-law’s fault, of course, but that of us he-men, and especially me, who had decided on this lunatic idea.

It is the only bad goose I have ever eaten. My mother-in-law can flat out cook a goose (or two). But it is a cherished Christmas memory, one I will never forget, one that brings me to tears of laughter, nearly, every time I think about it.

Cowboy Joe, Goose Wrangler.

Merry Christmas, friends!