Memories of Thanksgiving Day do not always conjure the famous Norman Rockwell painting that we all hope to emulate.
The first Thanksgiving I can remember is when I had just turned five. My memory doesn’t look anything like Norman Rockwell’s 1942 “Freedom from Want” painting; instead, it’s a rather bizarre image of a headless turkey running through my grandparents’ back yard.
For some ungodly reason, the menfolk in my family thought it would be a good idea – or maybe a more authentic experience – to butcher a turkey for the family gathering. Considering we lived in the city and not on a farm, I still find this decision rather baffling more than 50 years later. I didn’t actually see my grandfather take an ax to chop off the turkey’s head, but I did see that poor creature’s body upright and running for what in my impressionable mind seemed like the entire afternoon. In actuality, it was probably just a few seconds.
I next remember my grandmother straddling a large metal basin plucking feathers, and she did not look pleased. She certainly didn’t resemble Rockwell’s matriarch all prim and proper in a clean apron. Of course, the testosterone-infused family members who had developed the brilliant idea in the first place had disappeared during that messy ritual.
Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately) I do not remember much else about that particular Thanksgiving. I suspect I didn’t eat any turkey – and it’s a wonder I didn’t become a vegetarian.
Nevertheless, I did eat turkey again and even tried to cook a few of the grocery store varieties myself. Shortly after college, I was living far from home and decided to cook Thanksgiving dinner for some friends. I knew enough to remove the gizzards and neck bone from the bird’s cavity, but somehow I failed to tie up its legs securely. An hour or so later – with guests looking over my shoulder – we peeked into the oven to see Tom Turkey sprawled out spread-eagle and not looking too appetizing. Thank goodness I had learned how to perfect cranberry salad.
Years rolled by and my husband took over the turkey roasting. He was rather good at it, but one year he decided to use his new smoker. Smoking meat is not a fast process, and it can go downhill rather quickly. That year, the bird looked perfect but it was a dry and tasted like wood. I vaguely remember someone mentioning something about eating a board.
Although I’ve since had some picture-perfect Thanksgiving meals, I find it amusing that the ones I remember most are less than perfect. The best memories were not the meals, but the laughs and time we shared with family and friends. Our family numbers have dwindled over the years, and I cherish those memories more than ever.
And I always smile when a turkey receives a presidential pardon every November. After all, that’s one bird that won’t be running around headless in someone’s backyard haunting children for a lifetime.
May you have a happy – and memorable – Thanksgiving!