There is nothing pretty about quartering a 22 pound Butterball turkey. This is particularly so when the bird is still partially frozen and the knife of choice has spent its long life banging around the utensil drawer. I break down chickens all the time, and they pose no difficulty to my knife skills. I can render the chicken fragmented in mere moments, but the bones of a large turkey are not so easily swayed. Yesterday, when in full hack on my parents kitchen counter, my daughter watched in bemused horror. She said that she didn’t want to watch, but that she couldn’t look away. Smart girl. This was a time of action, and I a man of it.
I dismantled the large, falcon like wings with ease. I wanted the legs to stay attached to the thigh, and this presented a unique challenge to me. I hacked from the front and from the back, I hacked somewhat carefully and then viciously. I freed the bird from its oversized, useless thighs, and removed the ribs and the back. I was left with a pair of giant, genetically altered breasts. They were beautiful. And they were plump. And with some additional hacking, they were separated. My daughter was still watching. My father, the man who hosts this Thanksgiving event wandered in and then watched as a strange anger boiled up inside of him. With each slice and hack and disjointed bone I was breaking down not only a large roided up turkey, but also his dream of a proper Thanksgiving table. He shares this vision with Mr. Rockwell, and both of them would not be pleased to see what I had done with their prized bird.
But I have a dislike of dried birds, and so recently I have forcefully interjected myself into the preparation of large roast holiday beasts. For years, I stood by, watching idly as my mother would place a turkey into the oven at five- no- four am, and allow it to cook for hours at high, then low, and then high temperatures. She would cook the life, and every last ounce of juice out of that bird, or pig, and she would prepare meat for our holiday table that could double as well preserved jerky fit to accompany hard tack on a transatlantic journey. She is an amazing cook, but not when it comes to meat at holidays. And so I took over this task, to her outright chagrin, and I will now perfect the roast beast. My son wrote in his school journal last week something that reinforces this new hierarchy. He wrote about his grandmother cooking a turkey, and his dad coming in to fix it. I am the fixer. He is also smart.
I am also a messy cook. I will destroy a kitchen, and I will do so joyously and frenetically. I do not cook and clean, I cook and then hope that someone else will clean. It seems only fair, and it goes part and parcel with a popular motherism that we’ve all heard. It’s voiced as a post-meal joke- “I cooked, now you all get to clean”. Everyone laughs. Ha Ha. The person who verbalized the joke laughs too, so as to convince those in ear shot that it wasn’t really meant. But it was. It should be allowable that he or she who cooks should be held back when it is time to clean. This was the intent of this saying, and I have finally perfected its application. I will cook, they will clean, the balance will be restored.
Thanksgiving at my parent’s home is like that. It’s aligned. It is as it should be, except when my younger brother is forced to go to his in-laws. This is unfortunate. This week, I reminded my sister-in-law that my turkey will be better than her family’s turkey, and while she agreed, this didn’t free up my brother to attend my meal. The day is fun and it is fine and it makes me happy, even if I might get cranky and a bit abrupt when deep into the weeds of Thanksgiving preparation. My one living grandmother won’t be here this year, which will be sad.
When my younger brother does show up, my brothers and I will act like children. We are grown, with families, and yet I feel eternally 12 when I’m in their company under my parent’s roof. I wonder if this is how it always feels for everyone. I don’t think my dad and my uncle feel like children when they’re together, but they’re getting old now, so perhaps they only recently grew up. When dinner is ready, perhaps an hour after the intended time, my father will attempt to tell some Thanksgiving related story before we pray and eat, and we’ll roll our eyes and mock him, which we always do. It’s nice that my mom and dad are still around to make us feel like kids, and I dread the day when it’s my turn to host Thanksgiving.
I don’t dread it because of the cooking and the entertaining responsibilities, instead I dread it because it will only happen when something changes. As long as my parents are living, Thanksgiving will be at their house, as it should be. And when it is finally held at my house, and I say the prayer and tell the story about the twelve kernels of corn on the pilgrim’s clay plates, then it’ll only be because my father isn’t there to do it himself. That will be a horrible day and a sad Thanksgiving. I’ve been in a hurry my whole life, but that is one Thanksgiving that I hope never comes.
This year, I have much to be thankful for. Personally I have my health, and the health of my family, and this completes my list. I have rapidly growing children who were 2 yesterday and are 8 and 5 today. They are safe and healthy and smart and disrespectful to me and their mother at times, and for that I am thankful. I have a business that has exceeded most of my expectations, and clients who are loyal and trusting. I have everything I need and most of what I want, and though that is selfish, I am indeed thankful for it. To get to live in Lake Geneva is a gift and a thrill, and I am utterly grateful to be living this blessed life. Happy Thanksgiving.