New Year’s Eve is a day friends and family gather around to celebrate the year past and the year to come.
It’s a time to crack open a bottle of champagne, watch Ryan Secrest (really, he replaced Dick Clark?) chitter-chatter about the ball, then wind down the night with a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
Do you have a New Year’s resolution? Hopes and dreams?
Buddy, I’m here for the summer sausage.
People don’t really talk about it — the summer sausage cut on New Year’s Eve doesn’t get the front and center play like other holiday foods. Valentine’s and Halloween have candy on lock, Christmas the center of a Venn diagram between Thanksgiving (turkey) and Easter (ham), and every single summer holiday (Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day) is when hot dogs, hamburgers and good ol’ fashion American barbecue take the stage.
Look, it’s no wonder New Year’s Eve’s humble summer sausage stays low key — it’s certainly not as majestic as a freshly cooked turkey, or a ham covered in maple glaze. Let’s be honest — the summer sausage is an oversized Slim Jim.
Here’s the thing — summer sausage is what I look forward to on New Year’s Eve. Heck, from Thanksgiving onward, I awaken everyday jonesing for the stuff.
The Sunday before Christmas, I bought a cheap little set from Walmart. It came with some smoked cheese, mustard and crackers. I told my wife I’d eat maybe half of it and save the rest for the following day.
That was a complete lie — within 20 minutes of opening the package, every last crumb was gone.
I wasn’t always like this. When I was a child, I detested the meat logs.
See, every New Year’s Eve, my dad would buy a summer sausage, a cheeseball covered in nut shavings and a box of crackers. He’d carve it up and he and my mom would eat it. Myself, I was hit or miss — the look of it and the smell of it repulsed me.
By the time I reached adolescence, I made peace with summer sausage — I could eat it, but I didn’t necessarily care for it. To be truthful, I never even thought about it — it was like the slices appeared on my plate every Dec. 31.
My senior year of high school, something changed.
One day, I woke up and I had the hunger. I wanted summer sausage.
In the back of fourth period English, I sat next to my buddies Chad and Nick.
Chad was one of those types who wore a uniform of a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and started growing a mustache in the sixth grade. He was a bit of a nerd, but overall a nice guy.
Nick had been through the wringer of life by the time he reached senior year, but at his core he was always a creative, talented soul.
When I said I wanted summer sausage, they said OK, let’s have some. Not at lunch, but here in English class.
Every single Friday for the rest of the year.
Here’s the thing — in order to eat a summer sausage, you need a knife. Of course, a knife inside a public school post-Columbine was grounds for suspension, if not expulsion. Maybe a pocket knife could get by — after all, how many boys forget to leave their pocket knife at the house.
A sticker to slice a summer sausage? Nah, that will get the school resource officer down there escorting you out of the building.
I realize this all now, but at age 17, 18, it was worth the risk. Heck, I can’t say if I even realized there’s a risk — when the first Friday came, I just slid the sausage, a plate and the knife into my backpack, tossed it into my car and drove to school.
Come fourth period, I pull the knife out and cut that sucker up — we feast on the salty, savory goodness of summer sausage.
We do this for about three or four weeks, until Mrs. French, our English teacher, spotted me whipping out this shiv in the middle of class.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“We’re eating summer sausage, ma’am,” I said.
Now, this is the part where you expect to hear I was sent to the office, got a few days of suspension and reformed my summer sausage eating ways.
Nope, Mrs. French — ever the enabler — told me to finishing cut the sausage and then she confiscated the knife. She worked out a deal — she’d keep the knife until graduation, but she’d let us use it every Friday to cut the sausage.
We didn’t only eat summer sausage, of course. We alternated with hard salami and pepperoni sticks.
But nothing ever hit the spot like summer sausage.
Much like the old man in “A Christmas Story” with his turkey ultimately ruined by the Bumpus hounds, I too get a glint in my eye this time a year — for summer sausage, that is.
For Christmas my wife got me a “Party Cane” by Hillshire Farm for a stocking stuffer. It consists of two packs of white sharp cheddar pasteurized “cheese food” and 4 1/2-ounce summer sausage.
Of the various gifts I received for Christmas, it’s the only one I haven’t opened yet — I’m waiting for midnight to crack it open.
Reach HENRY CULVYHOUSE at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.