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Giving Thanks (Now Get Your Hands Off My Turkey And Get The Hell Out Of My Kitchen!)

This post idea is courtesy of Sprite’s Keeper. Each week, in her Spin Cycle she posts a theme for you to write about. This week’s assignment is Giving Thanks. I am thankful for finding her totally cool blog as well as some of the other amazing writers who link to her each week. Check her out!

For the last nine years I’ve done Thanksgiving at our house. The first one was less than 2 weeks after we moved in, but somehow during those 10 days I managed to come home from work every night, unpack nearly 2,400 square feet of crap and squeeze it into 1,650 square feet and cook Thanksgiving dinner for 24 people. I also managed to seat those 24 people at a table meant for 6 in a dining room not much bigger than a bath mat. It was like Jesus and the loaves and fishes, except, you know, not. Instead of feeding 5,000 I fed 24. There was enough (edible) food for a feast and it was a miracle.

Over the years, the number of people at our table has gone up and down. Sometimes there are more than 20 people; the average is about 14. As Bill’s boys have gotten older, they make their own plans, but even as adults they try to alternate every other year with us and every other year with their mother. Bill’s sister and her family come and go, depending on their obligations with all of their new in-laws. My parents are there, and we have what I call Bill’s Collection—friends who have an open invitation to our holiday table every year.

This year, there will only be about 8 of us, but I’m sort of grateful for the “break.” But what’s easier for me is bittersweet for Bill. Both of his parents have passed away in the last three years and I know the holidays aren’t easy for him. His parents loved Thanksgiving—it combined their two favorite things: food and family.

And, frankly, Thanksgiving really isn’t the same without them.

A little background.

Bill’s dad, Bill Senior, was a character. There’s really no better word to describe him. He loved to talk and talk. And he had a repertoire of stories. There were about 20 that he kept in regular rotation. Over and over. He’d say, “Did I ever tell you about the time…” and we’d all say, “Oh, yeah, I think so…” But he pretended not to hear and just launch right into it. Bill’s boys would recite the story right along with him—same inflections, same pauses. But he loved it. Senior was a career Marine, and carried himself like one his entire life—he appeared tough but he was a total softy. And he loved to be right in the center of all the action. He loved nothing more than being in the middle of his family.

Bill’s mom, Reta, would laugh at Bill’s Sr.’s stories like it was the first time she ever heard it—even after more than 50 years of marriage (and 387 retellings). We started calling her Saint Reta.

Reta loved to eat. She took great joy in her food. She was an amazing cook, but by the time I met her, she had decided she had done enough cooking in her lifetime and loved nothing more than to go out for breakfast each morning (same time, same place) and out for dinner. The richer, the fattier, the better. I have never seen anyone get more enjoyment out of a meal. We would meet Senior and Reta on weekends for big family dinners at a restaurant somewhere and they were happy as clams. Truth be told, it was just as much about the company as it was about the food.

So the first Thanksgiving in our house was the first Thanksgiving I ever prepared. My mom came a day early to boss me around help me get everything ready—she was full of helpful suggestions like reminding me to defrost the turkey and remove the giblets before cooking the defrosted turkey. Okay, those were actually good tips.

So things were relatively under control when everyone descended on our house in one noisy, cacophonous mass. I had everything timed perfectly. But I didn’t count on everyone else getting in my way NOT sticking to the plan.

Why is it that no matter how large or, in our case, small the kitchen, that’s exactly where everyone wants to be? At the same time. Especially if food is coming or going. When the turkey was finally done (20-pound birds cook a really long fucking time, BTW.) I tried to shoo everyone out of the kitchen because I practically have to stand in the living room to open the oven door.

People sort of wandered out slowly, but Bill Sr. stood smack dab in the middle of the kitchen, talking about a Thanksgiving they had 20 years prior. He was in the zone, so there was no interrupting to ask him to scoot over. So I had to stand to the side of the oven to pull the massive turkey pan out. It’s hard enough to bend over and grab it straight on—it’s like picking up dead weight—but from the side, I had one of those “Whoa, holy shit, it’s gonna fall” moments. Everything tilted and sloshed but nothing touched the floor (as far as you know). I finally balanced that sucker and maneuvered around Senior—who’s totally unfazed by this because he’s so deeply involved in this story—to get to the counter.

I barely placed this massive, insanely hot roasting pan on the counter before Reta, who’s perched on her stool listening with utter fascination to Senior while surveying all the activity, lifts up the lid and grabs at the bird with her bare hands.

I was speechless. “Um, Reta, it’s kinda hot. Do you want to let it cool off for a few minutes?” She had no interest in that. She was focused on making sure she had her wings and neck and was determined to get them and put them aside. I didn’t have the heart to break it to her that NO ONE wanted the neck.

I tried to ignore the destruction that was occurring to my beautiful turkey and turned to my side dishes. I had to finish my green beans, heat the corn my sister-in-law brought, put the pies in the oven and whip the potatoes. When I got to the potatoes, I had to usher my mom out of the kitchen. She hates butter. HATES it. Apparently, when she was three she sat behind the couch and ate and entire stick of butter. The ENTIRE stick. So now we all have had to pay dearly for her butter disgust. I put lots of butter (and sour cream and whole milk) in my potatoes so I have to distract her while I dump it in. She never knows it’s there (which just proves to me that she doesn’t know she no longer hates butter), but if she lurks around and sees me put it in, she freaks out.

I sent my mom off to put something on the table for me so I could sneak in the butter and Reta says (loudly), “Hey, you should add some more butter in those potatoes.” This brought my mom running. “Butter? You aren’t putting butter in those, are you? Butter—blech.” I shot Reta a look, but she missed it because she was still dismantling my bird.

No sooner did we all sit down, say Grace and start to dig in, when Reta asks if there’s more gravy. Now, I had put two full gravy boats on the table. One on each end. Under normal circumstances there would have been more than enough to feed everyone in the county. Nope, not enough. “Sweetie, we’re a gravy family. You should heat up some more.” But I had put out everything I had. “Oh, don’t worry. Here, heat this up.” She got up, reached into her bag and handed me a couple of jars of gravy.

I was silently seething. I got up, opened the jars, heated them in the sauce pan, dug out some bowls to pour it in and finally sat down—10 or 15 minutes after everyone else started eating. My dinner was cold, I was cranky, tired and didn’t even care about the God-damned dinner anymore.

I felt like it was some twisted family holiday hazing. Rattle the new chick. See if she cracks.

Not long after I sat down, dinner was done. They ate everything. The carcass was bare, bones were sucked on, potatoes were snarfed (with gravy, natch), and every damn serving bowl was licked clean. The gravy was gone and my mom ate her buttery potatoes. There weren’t any leftovers to pack up. It was the best thank you I could have gotten. (For all I know, they fed it all to the dog while I was making the damn gravy, but it made me feel pretty good.)

Bill’s boys got up and cleared the table without being asked, and they did the dishes with Bill’s nieces.

I was exhausted.

At the end of the night, everyone thanked me and proclaimed it the best Thanksgiving dinner they ever had. Senior and Reta pulled me aside, told me they appreciated how hard I worked and gave me big hugs.

They drove me out of my head, but I would give anything to have them at our table one last time. It’s just not as eventful, challenging or fun. I have no one to hide the hot turkey from. No one will stand in the middle of my kitchen totally oblivious to everything but his family and the story he was telling. It makes me grateful to still have my parents around, healthy and with all their marbles. It makes me grateful to have Bill by my side and friends who just fucking rock.

(Okay, and I’m a little grateful I don’t have to cook a gallon of gravy. But I might anyway.)

Happy Thanksgiving!
xoxo

PS: Tell me what you’re thankful for this year—aside from my totally fabu blog, of course!

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5 Responses

  1. I am thankful that I am not cooking! So is everyone else. I’ve handily proven how horrendous I am in the kitchen.
    Welcome to the Spin Cycle! You’re linked!

  2. Hi Mo,
    I called Bill today because I knew he was feeling simlar to me with Mom & Dad gone and its holiday time again. I needed a fresh perspective. I enjoyed your writing. I got some laughs along with my misty eyes. I was feeling very “struck” today and hadn’t accomplished much. But I got going after reading your blog about your lst Thanksgiving dinner. I got some things done that I needed to. Like pick up the ham for tomorrow and go to the bank. Next I need grandma info. from you. Love, Sue

  3. I’m thankful for my family, too of course and that we’re all healthy. And that the world might soon get back to spinning swiftly and truly on its axis. Have a splendid day!

  4. Hi Sue: I’m glad you stopped by! I’m happy that you enjoyed the post. Your parents were definitely one in a million. They were a big presence in all of our lives. Keep remembering all of the good stuff—including the quirky stuff, like the stories your dad told and your mom’s humor.

    You’re a grandmother now, so it’s up to you to take up where your mom left off!

    (Sorry about the swearing!)

    xoxo,
    Mo

  5. I think if I had to pack 24 people in my house I’d end up in the fetal position..lol Happy Thanksgiving!

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