Fierce Anticipation [Very Special Edition]: December 18-20
a blogumn by Ryan Dixon
Introduction to the 2009 Edition
Last December, I wrote a blogumn explaining my unconditional love for Hickory Farm’s Beef Stick. The post was a raging success and, after talking with the editor, we’ve decided to bring it back as a special holiday treat.
However, like that Christmas Eve story Grandpa always told that became longer and more convoluted as the years went on, I’ve decided to start an annual tradition of adding new material to the post. I figure if George Lucas can give us approximately 18,281 Special Editions of Star Wars, there’s no reason why I can’t write an additional hundred words or so each year expanding on the joys and sorrows experienced while eating the greatest of the great American foods.
(Attention conspiracy theorists: Just because I wrote about my McRib addiction two weeks ago and am now re-posting a hagiography of Hickory Farms Beef Stick does not mean that I’m on the American Meat Institute’s payroll. Of course, if anyone from the American Meat Institute is reading this post, I would actually very much like to be on the payroll. Feel free to tweet me up at @ryanbdixon.)
And so, dear readers, Fierce and Nerdy is proud to present:
On the Exegesis of the Soul or: Why I Love Beef Stick: 2009 Revised and Expanded Edition with a New Introduction (Which You Just Read)
Hickory Farms Beef Stick
“May I try a free sample?”
After speaking those six simple words, the ritual would always be the same: A smiling gray-haired clerk at a Hickory Farms Christmas stand in one of the many Western Pennsylvania malls I visited during my childhood would poke a toothpick into a delicately cut square of meat, hand it to me and the door to paradise would open…
I love Hickory Farms Beef Stick.
There is a popular dinner party question that goes something like this: Would you give up a year of your life to relive your favorite day? My answer is usually no, but when I stop for a moment to seriously consider the question, one exception comes to mind: Any Christmas Day where Beef Stick was served.
Christmas. Beef Stick. Beef Stick. Christmas. Writing those words sends my memory drifting back into the specter of adolescence… There I am, age eleven, ignoring my unopened copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 and staring instead at a Beef Stick in my hand. My mother, seeing a concerned look on my face, approaches and whispers in my ear, “Honey, it’s okay. Your uncle doesn’t know any better. Next year I’ll tell him to get you a Ninja Turtle.”
Little does she know that I’m not bemoaning the fact that my Uncle got me a piece of processed meat product for Christmas, but actually asking myself the question that will haunt me for the rest of my life: Do I want to savor the Beef Stick over several days or eat it all now? On that Christmas I eat it all, blissfully unaware that my caloric innocence will one day end.
And backwards we fall again, to yet another December 25th…Since no adult had the presence of mind to buy me a Beef Stick for Christmas, my ten year-old eyes zero in on my parents opening their gifts. I’m hoping, nay praying, that the wrapping paper being torn apart will reveal the iconic packaging of the Hickory Farms Gift Pack — Wait. Is that a slither of the Hickory Farms’ red cardboard I see underneath the wrapping paper? It is! Hallelujah!
Finally, we land inside a cozy little house in a Pittsburgh suburb… I am eight years-old, still wearing my footed pajamas, in a post-presents state of euphoria, and continually re-entering Baba’s* kitchen to gobble up, slice by succulent slice, an entire 3lb Beef Stick**.
An hour passes. I return to the kitchen and find myself face-to-face with one final two-inch, end slice. I reach for it, my mouth already opening, preparing to stuff it inside, when a voice, unrecognizable, yet distantly familiar, as if spoken through the melancholic echo chambers of time by a much older version of myself, fills my head with one word– Remember.
I turn back to the living room. Not knowing what I should be remembering, I scan the room, silently watching my little sisters play Candy Land at the feet of my parents who are laughing at how Buffy the cat has gotten herself entangled in refuse wrapping. I glance over to see my grandfather sipping on an Old Fashioned while he discretely holds hands with Baba, who uses her free hand to inhale a Now 100 cigarette.
Bored by the prosaic image of my family doing the same thing that they had done every Christmas for my entire eight years of existence, I’m about to turn away when the voice, much more urgent this time, returns.
I continue to stare, making myself focus in on every sight, smell and sound. Another moment passes. Finally feeling that I have gleaned every detail possible from this familiar familial tableaux, I turn away from the living room unaware that I will be forever thankful for this eternal memory as Christmas would never really be the same– over the next few years my parents divorced, my sisters stopped playing Candy Land and started to play with boys, and health problems forced my grandparents to sell their house and move into a retirement home.
My eyes go back to that final slice of Beef Stick. Instead of gulping it down in total, I sit down at the small kitchen table, gently pick the slice up and roll it around in my hands, feeling its rubbery texture, inhaling its smoky scent. I then begin to take slow, small bites as the hazy magic hour glow representing the last light of Christmas Day shines through the kitchen window, painting us into a perfect moment in time.***
*Katherine S. Libbey (April 30, 1922 – April 27, 2008) — Despite imparting many wonderful life lessons and being the first person outside of my parents to give me a bath, the fondest memories I have of my maternal grandmother revolve around her introducing me to the three food items that became the pillars of my diet: chewy jelly candy, Kraft Easy Cheese and, of course, Hickory Farms Beef Stick. Yet somehow, as a child, I never thought of spraying the Easy Cheese over the Beef Stick. This tragic oversight remains, outside of the time I chickened out and didn’t try to kiss Lisa Griffith on Valentine’s Day 1992 while we waited for our trombone lesson, the major regret of my childhood.
**If anyone’s counting that’s 4560 calories, 384g of fat, 16g of carbs and 216g of protein in one 3lb Beef Stick.
***If you too wish to feel same orange-hewed glow of melancholic nostalgia and innocence this Christmas, try eating your Beef Stick to the accompanying chords of this selection from Patrick Doyle’s score to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:
KINDA WANNA EAT
Hickory Farms Beef Stick
If there is light, then darkness must follow. And so it is with Beef Sick. I know love because I know Beef Stick, but I also know rage and the uncontrollable hunger that haunts only the most destitute of drug addicts because I know Beef Stick. More than once, it has pushed my relationships with loved ones and friends to the breaking point. Here is just one example:
Is a cylinder of processed meat worth a ten-year friendship?
Just this month my roommate Zac bought two 14oz. Beef Sticks from Target to serve as a continuing late night snack. Thus, as the clock struck midnight, we dug in. Never had our friendship felt so close as it did that night, when we reminisced about a college-aged trip to a local abandoned insane asylum over a few slices of B.S. Around 2am, Zac went to sleep and I was left alone with the kitchen mere feet away…
Cut To: The Next Evening. Around Midnight, Again.
As I sat typing on my laptop in the dining room, Zac entered the kitchen for another late night snack. But, instead of encountering meat to feed his stomach and soul, he was confronted by nothing but my guilty gaze. I broke down and confessed: I had eaten the rest of the first stick and the entirety of the other the previous night, after he had gone to bed. Although we are making strides in regaining some semblance of trust, when I think of how Beef Stick affected our never-to-be-the-same friendship I am haunted by the words of Tennessee Williams, “How beautiful it was and how easily it can be broken.”
WOULDN’T EAT IT IF YOU PAID ME
Hickory Farms Beef Stick
It’s called “Beef Stick.” What part of a cow or a pig looks remotely like a stick? Officially, Beef Stick is a summer sausage, which, according to Wikipedia, is any sort of sausage that can be kept fresh without the aid of a refrigerator. Beef Stick, a subspecies of said meat melody, is made from a flesh potpourri of leftover scrap and organ meat that would otherwise be wasted. Alas, how my soul weeps when I think of the suffering involved in the creation of one Beef Stick, the primal cries of those poor animals as their soft, innocent flesh is sliced open–
Who am I kidding? F&%K the animals. I love Beef Stick and I always will. As a Christmas tradition, it’s far tastier than Mistletoe, eggnog and the virgin birth. Like Mandy Patinkin, Steven Spielberg, Gore Vidal, Stephen King, and my parents, Hickory Farms Beef Stick, for better or worse, remains one of the great influences of my life and has helped to make me the person I am.
So, in parting, let me share with you dear readers, the true spirit of Christmas:
POSTSCRIPT: After all these years, Hickory Farms may have finally realized that there are some segments of the Vox populi who may not be all that inclined to eat something with the words “Beef” and “Stick” situated next to each other. Thus, in the hallowed tradition of desperate corporations, they’ve re-Branded. Say hello to new packaging, a new design and, horror of horrors, a new name. Now “Beef Stick” belongs to the ages. This year America’s favorite meat is officially called: Beef Summer Sausage. Bon Appetit!