Turkey & Co.
I miss Thanksgiving.
I miss stuffing, and cranberry sauce, and pumpkin
pie. I guess I miss turkey, too, although more for the fact of it just being
there than for the taste of it.
I miss mashed potatoes and gravy, and my mom making apple nut salad, which I always hated but my sister loved.
I miss eating turkey sandwiches for a week afterwards.
Some Thanksgiving memories:
- Year: don't know, probably some time around 1974-75.
Where: the house I grew up in, near St. Louis
Who was there: my parents, my sister, my maternal grandmother. Maybe my sister's boyfriend (now husband), I'm not sure: I never paid that much attention to him.
As we took our places around the table, it was somehow decided that my father
was to say grace. We weren't much of a grace-saying family, but it was
Thanksgiving, and his mother-in-law was there. My Grandma Hagan was a churchy,
judgmental woman. I'm pretty sure she was the source of the "The family
that prays together, stays together" plaque that inexplicably hung in
our kitchen for many years. Probably to avoid offending her on her twice-yearly
Anyway, my father did his best at intoning a serious prayer. It started out pretty well, with a somber "Dear Lord..."
Long pause. A few beads of sweat appeared on his brow. Seeking out just the right words, fighting years of inexperience with prayer-saying.
"...bless this grub." A few snickers from my sister and me, quickly silenced by a glance at my grandmother's pained expression.
Even longer pause. Things were obviously not going as planned. The food was getting cold. Time to get this prayer over with...
"And help us not to flub our dub. Amen."
We all broke up laughing; even Grandma Hagan cracked a smile. That was a good Thanksgiving.
- Year: 1977
Where: same house
Who was there: my mother, my sister. I'm pretty sure that's all.
Since my father died the week of Thanksgiving, there was a lot of hushed
discussion of what to do for the holiday. The reason it was decided to go
ahead with a more or less traditional feast, I think, was for my sake; I guess
the grownups thought it would be best not to upset my twelve-year-old sense
of routine and family togetherness. Or something like that.
I actually remember almost nothing of the holiday dinner itself. What I do remember, very clearly, is going grocery shopping with our next-door neighbor Wilma. Looking back, the idea was probably to get me out of the house so my mother could avoid having to worry about me for at least a little while.
Meanwhile, though, I felt very grown-up, prodding the turkeys with what I hoped was an expert-looking finger, deciding which type of cranberry sauce to buy, carefully examining the various brands of pumpkin pie filling. I was very conscious of the responsibility placed on my shoulders, and my usual drive to do things just right meant that poor Wilma ended up spending about two hours strolling up and down the aisles of Schnuck's supermarket while I tried to buy food that would make everyone forget, for just a little while, the black cloud that hung over our household.
It didn't work, but I can't honestly say it was a terrible Thanksgiving, because I have no recollection of it. Though I think it's safe to say it was not among my best holidays ever.
- Year: 1985
Where: Bologna, my junior year of college abroad, my apartment in Via Saragozza
Who was there: my housemates Chimène and Lynn, our mutual friend Liz, her friend visiting from home (Eunice? something like that), a bunch of our Italian friends, including Dario, who was the farthest thing from my mind in terms of romantic involvement.
Being a group of American college girls (I'm supposed to say "women",
aren't I? sorry!) on a horizon-expanding experience abroad, we decided it
was our cultural duty to prepare a Thanksgiving feast for our Italian amici.
We dutifully ordered a turkey from a shop downtown that had various fowl hanging
from the ceiling beams, wrote or called home for favorite family recipes,
had exotic ingredients like cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie spices shipped
over, planned the menu and divided up our duties. We thought we were ready.
The first clue to how wrong we were came when we all trooped downtown at dawn to pick up our bird. Used to plastic-encased Butterballs with handy bags of innards stuck inside, we were taken aback as we gazed upon our prospective dinner in silence. It still had a head, and feet, and hadn't even been entirely plucked: a few stray plumes were still sticking out of its cold, dimpled skin. We rode the bus back to our place (the turky on our collective laps, stretched across the bus seat like a big, sleeping dog, its beady grayish-black eyes staring at us in reproach) debating who would get stuck with the task of chopping off its head and feet. Luckily, it wasn't me. I was elected to call home from the tobbaconists' shop around the corner--we had no phone in the apartment--and ask my mother how to identify and remove the various guts that were to be used in the stuffing and gravy (what the hell is a giblet, anyway?).
We gamely set to work, bustling around the kitchen. We were already a little behind schedule, but not worrisomely so. We chopped and diced and mixed efficiently, like a bunch of 50s housewives.
However, our problems were not yet over.
Since this also happened to be the last time in my life I ever roasted a turkey, I'm a little fuzzy on the details. You obviously calculate how big a turkey to serve based on how many people are going to be eating it (a pound a person? something like that). Well, our math skills were obviously a little lacking, because we went slightly overboard: we bought a 12-kg turkey. That's 26 pounds, to most of you.
This was not a big turkey, it was a huge turkey. Enormous.
And of course, being so big, it would not fit into our pint-sized Italian oven, designed for more reasonably sized things, like lasagne.
This was a serious setback; luckily, it appeared, a solution was at hand. Liz, who lived only a few blocks away, was pretty sure her oven was a bit larger. So she and I headed off on foot, waddling down the street with the roasting pan hanging awkwardly between us and bumping against our legs at every step, getting some very strange looks from Italian passers-by.
It did indeed fit into her oven, but there was one more hurdle to overcome: actually cooking the damned thing. Her oven was large, but didn't seem to heat very well. Someone's mother had given us another formula for working out how long to roast the turkey, and we waited patiently, but hour after hour the breast stubbornly remained a sickly pale. Lyn (or was it Chimène?) came over to inform us that our guests had arrived, and were busy guzzling down the wine and eating all the bread while waiting impatiently for their food.
After a while, we decided that we'd done the best we could, and it was time to deliver the goods to the hungry hordes. But how could we traverse the several blocks between Liz's place and ours on a cold November day without ending up with a tepid turkey? There was only one solution: call a taxi!
The driver was surprised, and kept darting us curious looks via the rearview mirror, but wisely refrained from asking any questions. Crazy American girls, riding around Bologna in a taxi with a huge turkey! And a half-cooked one, at that!
That was another fun Thanksgiving.
After all these memories, I realize I don't even remember my last Thanksgiving.
Well, my last real Thanksgiving, in a home setting. My last actual
Turkey Day was spent at a cheap chain restaurant in Richmond, Virginia eating
dry white meat, runny gravy and frozen pumpkin pie. Dario was visiting, which
made it tolerable. But it was still a lousy meal.
Before that... who knows?
Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving to all you lucky folks who will be in a food-induced daze for the next four days! Eat some extra stuffing and cranberries for me, will you?