It's been a heck of a year, and we're not even done yet. So I'll take a break from the more serious topics that never seem to let up and talk a little about my family's first Thanksgiving on our own.
Like many folks, the pandemic has kept our larger family from gathering to stuff themselves silly before passing out just in time for dinner. When I was young, Thanksgiving meals would often be followed by a great migration. My dad would join my grandfather and my uncles in the living room as they sat down to shoot the breeze — then they'd each fall asleep one by one. This year, I was the only male in the house, but I will admit I still wanted to slip into the traditional Thanksgiving food-coma.
Despite it just being our family of four this year, we had planned out a holiday menu for the day of thanks. There was turkey of course, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie — all the things we decided were the must-haves of Thanksgiving. The first episode in our ensuing comedy came after I went to the grocery store with out a list.
As one might imagine, there seemed to be a bit of a run on small turkeys — what with small family gatherings on the rise this year. My wife sent me for a 10-pound bird, but I came back with one about half-again as big. Even the young person ringing me up commented on its heft as it was scanned.
Still, I brushed it off until I got home and looked in our freezer. It was then that I began to wonder if we even had room for that big a turkey at all — probably something I should have thought of before I made my way to the checkout aisle. But I decided I could. I moved some frozen vegetables, rearranged other frozen meat and flat out tossed a few cooler packs in the garage to thaw a bit.
Even with just the turkey in the freezer, the wire shelf started to bow.
Now, like I said, this was our first Thanksgiving cooking with just our nuclear selves, and there was plenty I didn't know. Fortunately, my wife was confident in basically everything but the bird and, thankfully, she had the foresight to research how long it takes turkeys to thaw. I myself would have been cursing and hacking away at it with a carpenter's saw on Thanksgiving noon if not for her. She of course discovered we needed a day of thawing in the refrigerator for every four or five pounds of bird. She did the math and unfortunately that meant we had to move the turkey to the fridge pretty quick.
Like right then and there quick.
So, after having already masterfully reorganized our freezer, I had to do the same for our refrigerator. I know they can do amazing things with glass these days, but adding the frozen turkey to an already crowded refrigerator shelf felt like I was pushing my luck and broken glass would fall in every nook and cranny. So, I started making cuts. A bag of chia seeds we moved with about five years ago — tossed. A pair of jars full of horseradish, neither with an expiration date — out. Partial bottles of syrup neither of us remembered buying — rinsed and recycled. With some more rearranging, it was soon just the turkey and a gallon of milk on the shelf.
And I kept them as far apart as possible to spread out the weight.
Then the day came. We'd had to buy a roasting pan — since the one we had wasn't quite big enough for that size of turkey. We unwrapped it and began asking ourselves exactly what a giblet is. We found the neck no problem of course, but it wasn't until I went to carve the turkey that I found the paper bag any seasoned turkey cooker already knew about. I've got to say, I find it a little funny that someone actually takes the time to intentionally put the turkey's neck where its organs should be and put the organs where its neck should be.
At any rate, I started in with the carving knife while imagining the scene from "Christmas Vacation" in which the turkey pops open with a puff of steam and the family has to crunch away on some extremely dry meat. Fortunately, that wasn't the case for us. My wife did a great job making sure it didn't dry out, as well as getting the rest of the dishes ready — and I did a mighty fine job peeling potatoes, if I do say so myself. We had so much food we essentially ate the same meal for the next three days — turkey salad sandwiches, turkey pasta toss, you get the gist — and then we still put an entire container of turkey meat in the freezer — no problems fitting this time, of course.
In the end, all the first-time gaffes made for some great memories. And they weren't the only ones. Our youngest took her first bites of solid food at the Thanksgiving table, our oldest sat on my lap to watch one of our first Christmas movies this year and decorations popped up over the next few days to just make the house feel more cozy than it has in a while.
So, while the holidays may not come and go the way many of us would like this year, that doesn't mean they won't be as meaningful as years gone by.
In fact, they might be more so than ever.