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Thanksgiving Memories

Submitted by Virginia Watts on Thu, 11/25/2021 - 10:28

The hot wind came from out of the northeast, and slammed into the trashcans, turning them over and spilling their contents. Southern California Thanksgivings are always unpredictable. Usually so hot and dry that the air is electric. This one ticked all the boxes. 

I am in my thirties, and we have two young children. My husband has taken them off to church and I am home attending to the housecleaning and cooking of the turkey. Guests are coming in the afternoon, expecting the traditional holiday feast. I'm new at cooking turkey, but confident I can manage. What's so hard about seasoning a bird and putting it in the oven? I've done it with chicken hundreds of times. I'm optimistic, looking forward to the family gathering in our home for the traditional feasting.

So the bird is in the oven, holiday music is playing, and I am sweeping the kitchen floor, tidying the living room, and making sure the bathroom has the required fresh hand towels and new bar of soap. I unwrap the Palmolive, and for a moment breathe in the smell of clean -- the linen-closet kind of clean -- where I'd like to rest a few moments with the folded towels and sheets. But I must keep moving. Still a lot to do.

The table is set with my grandmother's china (she gifted it when we got married) the little pink flowers scattered across the plate, fading gold trim at the edge. Never quite the pattern I would have chosen, but pretty enough, and service for twelve. I was glad to have it, and glad that it had once graced my grandmother's table. She hasn't been with us since shortly after our first child was born, and that is such a loss for me, and for them. She was the calm center at the eye of our extended family storm. Although always at odds with my other grandmother, who she referred to as Mrs. Efverlund, and Mrs. Efverlund referred to her as Mrs. Smith. They had taken 'polite' to a level of contempt that was palpable. You get the picture. But she was the one with a ready laugh, a new story, that could make us all glad to be together. And her appreciation for just being alive was like a balm for the troubled souls around our table. I miss her. I will always miss her.

I pass through the kitchen, and notice that the heat that had been emanating from the oven was no longer happening. I put my hand on the stovetop. It's cold. I open the oven door. A slight warmth, but only slight, seeps out. The turkey is still cold. The oven has stopping working. I panic. I pour myself a glass of wine. I breathe. I think to myself that there must be another way of cooking a turkey. The burners are still working, thank you universe, but how can one cook a big turkey on top of the stove?

Then I remember that I have a big drop-drop baster, also inherited from my grandmother. A heavy, cast iron pan with a domed lid. Would the turkey fit in that? I can hear my grandmother saying to me "Come on. We can do this! There is more than one way to cook a turkey! People are just going to cut it up anyway, and if it tastes good, no one will even care."  I'll just have to cut it in pieces. But at least it will be cooked. Somehow I wrestle the turkey onto the cutting board and manage to cut it in such a way that all the pieces do fit. I add some broth and a bay leaf to the pan, cover it, turn on the burner and hope for the best. What else could I do? It will be a slow roast on top of the stove. Iron pot with lid

I am disappointed it will not be the way I pictured in my head. It wouldn't be gracing the table as a centerpiece, nicely browned, waiting to be carved, showing my culinary achievement to best advantage. 

I take a quick shower, and change into a long skirt and silky blouse. The church service will be ending soon, and my husband and kids will be back before I can finish the relish plate. Our guests will start arriving in an hour. At least the house is now filled with the smell of Thanksgiving, the turkey roasting away on the top of the stove. I am grateful that others are bringing the side dishes, and the pumpkin pie. 

The family dynamic was as expected. Some people carried old grudges and those grudges sat right along side them at the dinner table. Some people drank a little too much, some people were bored, some people argued. But there was laughter, too, some of it about my adventure with the turkey.

It turned out to be a very good meal. The turkey was tender and full of flavor. The side dishes were delicious, even the traditional lime jello salad with pineapple, celery, and carrots was more palatable that year. It was as good as it could get.

I was grateful...for that drip-drop baster from my grandmother, but mostly for the whisper of encouragement that I knew came from her sweet and optimistic self. I know now that I carry some of that sweet optimism in my very bones, and that means she is with me always.