TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Surviving Thanksgiving

I’m going to end the suspense right now. No one died from my Thanksgiving Day dinner.

I did not realize that for the many years I have been making turkeys for the holidays, I have been putting people in mortal danger. I’m probably in denial about the very real possibility there has been significant loss of life due to my recklessness. Which would explain why I no longer get Christmas cards from some people. Then again, it might just be politics.

This all started last week, when I was setting up tables and chairs and finalizing plans to host our family Thanksgiving in the repurposed Congregational Church I moved to my property several years ago. I suppose I should explain that.

Basically, I was tired of losing theological arguments — sometimes with real preachers trained in the art of hand-to-hand religion. I suppose I could have gone to seminary, but like vampires burst into flames in the sunlight or wicked witches melt, I figured I might be a victim of spontaneous combustion.

I bought my own church. I even bought the pulpit. When I need to do some parenting, I like to stand behind it and pontificate. I feel it strengthens my position. Thou shalt clean thy room.

And now, whenever I think I am losing a religious argument to someone armed with facts and historical perspective, I interrupt them. “Do you have your own church? Because I do.” End of argument, because moving a church 70 miles shows commitment.

Anyway, I have the space, and I thought I would give my Mom a break. You remember my Mom, reigning Ashley Oktoberfest Cooking Champion? So, this offer of mine was already pressure-packed. But I was confident. Because up to that point, I had no idea of the carnage I had wrought. I suppose no one ever gave me the body count. They didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

Even from 60 miles away, this thing was micromanaged from the start. I decided to do festive, but disposable, place settings, rather than drag all of that from the main house.

Then Mom called. “Did you put the turkey in the refrigerator to thaw?”

“Of course not. I’ve been thawing birds in cold water in the sink since the ’80s. Thanksgiving is four days away.”

But, she explained, as one does to the dim-witted, in short succinct sentences, that it was much safer to do it her way. She made it sound like there are hand grenades in each bird. One wrong move and ka-boom! We negotiated. She agreed to let me use sturdy plastic dinnerware, if I promised to put the turkey in the refrigerator to thaw “the right way.”

Well, I got up at 5:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day and threw a ham into one oven and then trudged across the yard to start the turkey. (The church has a functional kitchen.)

The turkey was a brick. It might have even been more frozen! Apparently, the hunters who had rented the church earlier had cranked up the cold. But I blame my mother. None of this would have happened, if she had just let me continue my annual unintentional killing spree.

I went from despair to anger. I considered calling her at that ungodly hour to chew her out, but thought better of it. I realized she’d probably just give me more bad advice.

Meanwhile, my sister, Sherry, who is bossier than my mom, and my sister-in-law Pam, who I have nothing bad to say about because she scares me, were already contemplating the disaster that awaited them. They wondered what I would forget, or what I would burn. And about the phone number of the county coroner.

Meanwhile, I called the Butterball hot line. I never got a real answer. Just hysterical laughter. Can you cook a frozen turkey? As a matter of fact, yes. It came out a delicious brown and the meat fell off the bone. And it was done on schedule. I’d rather not talk about the giblets.

The minute Mom arrived, I lit into her, though, just as a matter of principle. Our family functions are usually combative anyway, so throwing the first punch is a widely respected strategy. I had her on her heels all day. No matter what the subject, I brought it right back to flawed turkey-thawing methods and the heroic efforts required to overcome them.

I sensed my sister hovering, looking for something to worry about. I placated her with wine.

My brother, Mike, prayed before we ate. “Please Jesus, don’t make us eat this food. Amen.”

Mom called the next day to report that the debriefing went well. Everyone was suitably impressed with my organizational and culinary skills.

Mike was still praying, though, in case of a delayed reaction. “It’s nice to meet the low bar of expectations,” I said.

The turkey soup is on simmer.

© Tony Bender, 2016

Leave a Reply