Vic Choate and his toast

Vic Choate, with brother Guy at left, embarks on his Thanksgiving poem for 2007
All photos: Bill Bishop

A rangy, white haired man shouts “Welcome!” standing tall on the bar. “Postage is too high. So this is the only invitation you’ll get!”

And if you aren’t already there by 11 Thanksgiving morning, you’re out of luck. It’s the rapid-fire annual Turkey Shoot at Choate’s bar in San Angelo, Texas. Turkey hunting season started November 3, but nobody here is wearing camo. The guys look sharp. The women are heavily lipsticked, lots of them cradling Bloody Marys and sporting the kind of the glitter garb that never fades completely out of Texas style. Wade Choate, paterfamilias and a well-known cattle buyer in this part of the state, meets each person at the door. Looking formidable in wraparound shades and a big white cowboy hat, he greets everyone with a serious handshake.

Vic and Cathy Choate inadvertently began this San Angelo custom 30 years ago in their kitchen. “Most of my friends were single guys then,” Vic (also a cattle buyer) explains. They’d pile over for the Thanksgiving meal, giving Cathy lots of unsolicited advice on her cooking. And before sitting down to dinner, folks would toast the dwindling year, knocking back a shot of tequila —thus the Turkey Shoot.

Seems lots of San Angeloans wanted a break from mashing potatoes on Thanksgiving morning, and the broad, informal welcome began to spread like mesquite. Anyone can come “if you’ve kind of been invited,” says Lee Horton, whose invitation spread this year to us. Lee usually brings along his own big family and a bottle of tequila for the occasion: “You see the same old people.” Which is the whole point.

Eva and Guy Choate, a San Angelo lawyer and Vic’s brother, bought a beautiful old building on Chadbourne Street downtown (formerly the Coney Island Cafe), where the Turkey Shoot migrated. Then they acquired the Longhorn Bar next door, knocked an archway between the two, hung up some trophy heads and made a party space big enough for the ever-swelling herd of relatives and friends.

Cathy and Courtney Choate

Cathy Choate, with daughter Courtney, welcomes friends and “the whole fam damnily”

This Thanksgiving, about 70 people had trickled in by 11. That’s the wincing hour, when Vic’s and Cathy’s son, Taylor, and Guy and Eva Choate’s son, Michael, start pouring the tequila into scores of miscellaneous glasses, and Vic takes the big step onto the bar. In front of a Texas flag and mounted moosehead (source unknown), he puts on spectacles and unfolds this year’s tribute: an elbow-jabbing reminiscence of friends gone by, local happenings, and family news:

I’ve been a better husband.
I think I’ve turned the page.
Has nothing to do with Cathy’s
Brand new Benelli 20 Gauge.

The Choates enjoy politics as sport (longtime friend and former state rep. Rob Junell ““ now a federal district judge in Midland ““ is here), and Vic’s poem zings more than a few officials. His rhyme skips from family jibes to commentary on world and national affairs.

shotglasses Choats bar

The Reds have Giuliani
Who talks like a longshoreman
And has had lots more wives
Than the closest running Mormon.

The Blues have everybody
But the holy Dalai Llama.
I feel abused, I get confused.
Is it Osama, Obama, or Yo Mama?

Groan! As Cathy and daughter Courtney pass trays of shot glasses through the crowd, lots of women are checking their wristwatches. It’s time to pull that sweet potato casserole out of the oven. Vic is right on cue.

Enough of petty politics.
Who cares about those jerkeys?
We’re here to cheer our dear friends here
And roundly shoot the turkey.

Alas, alas, please grab your”¦glass,
The salt, the lick, the lime.
And shoot this year right in the rear
And have a real good time.

Choates bar turkey shoot

Faster than you can say Jose Cuervo, it’s done, and we’re out the door.

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