(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Nov. 17, 1996.)
Thanksgiving is a time of traditions, and there is no tradition more meaningful than the annual U.S. Department of Agriculture warning about fatal food-dwelling bacteria.
This year, I'm pleased to report, the department has outdone itself: For the first time ever, the department has officially advised Americans not to stuff their turkeys. Many alert readers sent in an Associated Press item in which the manager of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hot Line -- whose name is (I am not making this up) Bessie Berry -- is quoted as saying: ``Improperly cooked stuffing can cause serious illness or even death.''
I am frankly wondering if stuffing should be regulated, like assault rifles, to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
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BANK TELLER: May I help you?
ROBBER: Hand over the money!
SECOND BANK TELLER: Do as he says! He's holding improperly cooked stuffing!
But the looming specter of a painful death should in no way dampen the festivity of your Thanksgiving dinner. Just make sure the food is prepared in accordance with federal guidelines (''STEP ONE: Lighting The Blowtorch''). And before you eat, don't forget to bow your head for the traditional prayer of thanks (''We thank Thee for this bountiful meal and ask Thine forgiveness for the fact that we hath ordered pizza'').
Another traditional thing you should do is teach your kids the true meaning of Thanksgiving. I suggest you have them put on the following historical play, ''The Very First Thanksgiving,'' which I wrote myself after several backbreaking minutes of research in the encyclopedia.
THE VERY FIRST THANKSGIVING
(Scene One: Some Pilgrims are standing on the deck of the Mayflower.)
FIRST PILGRIM: Well, here it is, the year 1620.
SECOND PILGRIM: Yes, and we have been on this tiny ship, the Mayflower, for many weeks, fleeing persecution in England because of our religious views.
FOURTH PILGRIM: Also, we wear hats that look like traffic cones.
FIRST PILGRIM: What happened to the Third Pilgrim?
SECOND PILGRIM: He's throwing up.
FOURTH PILGRIM: Hey, look! There's Plymouth Rock! Pull over, captain!
LONG JOHN SILVER: Arrr.
(Scene Two: The Pilgrims are standing on the shore.)
FIRST PILGRIM: Well, this looks like a barren area with poor soil and harsh winters, offering little chance for our survival.
OTHER PILGRIMS: Perfect!
ROBBER: Hand over the money!
FIRST PILGRIM: Hey! You already did your scene in this column!
SECOND PILGRIM: Look! A Native American!
NATIVE AMERICAN: Fortunately, I speak English. My name is Squanto.
FOURTH PILGRIM: ''Squanto''? What kind of name is ``Squanto''?
SECOND PILGRIM: It sounds nasty! It sounds like, ``Mom! The dog made Squanto on the linoleum!''
FIRST PILGRIM: What's ``linoleum''?
SECOND PILGRIM: I have no idea.
SQUANTO: I'm going to show you how to plant maize and beans using alewives, shad or menhaden as fertilizer.
FOURTH PILGRIM: ``Alewives''?
SQUANTO: That's what it says in the encyclopedia.
(Scene Three: One year later.)
FIRST PILGRIM: Well, here it is, one year later.
SECOND PILGRIM: That was a pretty harsh winter.
FOURTH PILGRIM: That was definitely the last winter I plan to spend in a small confined space with people eating a diet of maize and beans.
FIRST PILGRIM: Also, as you will recall, we had a lot of starvation and disease, the result being that half of us are dead.
SECOND PILGRIM: Time for a celebration!
(Scene Four: The Pilgrims and Squanto are seated at a banquet table.)
FIRST PILGRIM: So here we are, at the (burp) first Thanksgiving.
SECOND PILGRIM: I definitely want the recipe for this alewife dip.
FOURTH PILGRIM: Hey Squanto, what are those drums saying?
SQUANTO (after listening for a moment): Lions 14, Bears 7.
FIRST PILGRIM: You know, Squanto, without your help, we never would have survived this winter. So we've decided to take over all of North America and pretty much obliterate your culture.
FIRST PILGRIM: Really? You don't mind?
SQUANTO: No, not at all.
FIRST PILGRIM: Great!
SQUANTO: Try this stuffing.