The year my first child was born, Thanksgiving found us all alone and far from home, living in Southern California. Our friends had either gone to be with their families or had families staying with them, but we, distracted by the challenges of new parenthood (complicated by colic) and the vicissitudes of Navy life, had made no plans at all.
Still, I had purchased a turkey plus all the usual excess: two kinds of potatoes, cranberry sauce, dressing — I who had never even thought about cooking a turkey, let alone coordinating all those other items.
I started early in the day, getting the bird washed, salted, stuffed, trussed-up and in the oven, baking a pie, whipping up a sweet potato soufflé, much of the time with the baby on one hip or the other. The weather was warm, and it got hotter than Hades in that kitchen, but it never occurred to me that we could just go out for Chinese food, or pick up a burrito from the taco stand down the street. This was Thanksgiving; we had to have turkey. It was the law.
At one o’clock I put the baby down for a nap, put the turkey on the sideboard, got dinner on the table, sat down, and burst into tears.
That was 40 years ago, but I thought about it last week. My sister and her family were planning to join us for the Thanksgiving holiday, but she was under the weather, so they didn’t come. My cousin, who was supposed to drive up from south Georgia, had car trouble and didn’t make it. Nevertheless, I — cooker of many a turkey over the years — cooked one more, plus all of the above-mentioned traditional treats. And when my parents and I sat down in solitary splendor, I burst out laughing. That’s what 40 years will do. Experience, I realized, is one of my blessings.
I spoke today with a friend who had 76 family members over for Thanksgiving dinner. “Good grief!” I said. “That’s nothing,” she replied. “If everybody had come, there would have been 60 more.” I said nothing; I was doing the math in my head. “We had 92 last year,” she continued. I am blessed, I realized, with a not-so-large family. Plus, one of my sons likes to cook turkeys, and the other one would just as soon have bacon and eggs, so I’m definitely blessed in the son department.
I myself would almost rather open a vein than cook a turkey. If they’re fresh, you don’t necessarily know how fresh they are, and if they’re frozen, they’re hard as a marble tombstone. Thawing one in the refrigerator can take days and days — and is that safe? A friend of mine once used her hair dryer to finish the job so she could get the giblets out. I was glad she didn’t tell me that before dinner. (Yet another blessing!)
And here comes Christmas, filling the air with music and the life with shopping, wrapping, stamping, mailing, cooking. Why, it’s enough to make you yearn for Presidents’ Day, or Groundhog Day, or — I know! — Labor Day. Now that’s a holiday!
Susan Harper is director of the Commerce Public Library. She lives in Commerce.