Like your mother-in-law and Herpes Simplex 1, holidays always arrive unexpectedly and at the most inconvenient times. As bad as they can be, they come back every year with the shining promise of more drama.
Thanksgiving is here. Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 as a way to bring peace in the midst of the Civil War; a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father.” Speaking strictly for myself, I’ve been present at many Thanksgivings that rivaled the Battle of Bull Run where everyone but “our beneficent Father” threw a punch. Which is why while Hallmark prefers to celebrate, I prefer to inebriate. There have been so many Thanksgiving disasters in my family that it’s amazing I just don’t lock myself in the closet on the fourth Thursday of every November.
Thanksgiving 1992 was a seminal year for me. I was a newlywed drunk on love (more drunk on wine) who announced during dessert at a relative’s house, “From now on I’ll do all the holidays!” I had no idea why the host was so excited. Well, I found out why the following Thanksgiving Day. My life being like an unscripted Broadway show, I invited 30 for a sit-down dinner and 15 more for dessert. My fireman husband was having a near coronary—not because there would be so many bodies in our house, but because there would be so many bodies using the plumbing. “All that flushing is going to kill our pipes!” he exclaimed.
“Don’t worry,” I responded calmly as I read “An Idiot’s Guide to Cooking Turkeys.” “I’ll just hand every guest a roll of toilet paper and send them into the bushes to take care of their business.”
Well, needless to say, three hours into that Thanksgiving, as I went down to the basement to remove the pies from our second refrigerator, guess what? Our plumbing did back up. All over the basement. Let’s just say that while Jim was calling Drain Doctor I was blaming the smell of raw sewerage on his aunt who had four heaping plates of everything and was now asleep in the corner under a pile of coats that the dessert guests had indiscriminately thrown on top of her corpse. Let me add, Drain Doctor drained everything including both our checking and savings account, but they got the job done fast! I even fed the plumber when he came. However, when I saw the bill I told him that while he charged hundreds and hundreds of dollars for holiday plumbing, “I charge $100 per slice of holiday turkey and $50 per side dish so why don’t we just call it even, okay?”
Back to the turkey. I had never cooked a turkey in my life, but I got up at 5 a.m. to stuff and shove the 28-pound bird into my oven. The fact that I couldn’t close the oven door was somewhat concerning, but more perplexing was the aroma. It didn’t smell like a turkey dinner should. As it continued to cook I knew that was one foul fowl. I called my mother frantic.
“The turkey stinks!” I shouted hysterically.
“I told you not to buy the ShopRite turkey,” she responded.
“No, I mean it really stinks!”
“Did you forget to remove the neck?”
“What neck???? Don’t they chop that off?”
“No. It’s wrapped with other internal organs and stuffed inside the bird in a bag. What did you do with that?”
“I guess I’m cooking it!” I howled in fear.
“Then that’s what stinks. You need to get it out.” Click.
I proceeded to remove the turkey from the oven, unstuff it, and remove the packaging that was now singed black with ash. I’m sorry, but that was no neck that I unwrapped. That was turkey genitalia! Was this a bris gone horribly wrong, or the black hand of the turkey mafia that had gotten their scratchy claws on my Tom and taught him a lesson for some undisclosed indiscretion with someone else’s ‘gobbling goomah?’
Then there are the guests. Holidays have the tendency to bring out the worst in families. And it wouldn’t be a proper holiday without that one negative relative who counters every statement with doom. If you tell them you’re pregnant they’ll tell you about how they miscarried on the “A” Train on Christmas Eve as The Salvation Army Choir was singing “What Child is This?” If you tell them that your child went to bed early the night before they’ll tell you that he probably has a brain tumor because that makes normally energetic kids tired. If you tell them that you and your husband are going away for a romantic weekend they’ll tell you that you’ll get nothing but the clap and bed bugs if you stay in a hotel because 20/20 did a special on how filthy they all are.
Thanksgiving 1998 everyone decided to keep pouring vodka into my now ex-sister-in-law’s glass because the only time she wasn’t giving everyone the hairy eyeball was when she drank vodka. That poor girl got so pie-eyed drunk that her head fell into the mashed potatoes during grace and no one bothered to wake her until dessert was over.
Then there was “Bad Dog’s” first Thanksgiving with us. I had cooked two turkeys that year. A 28-pounder and a small 17-pounder. As I had the 17-pounder resting in the roasting pan on the open oven door “Bad Dog” managed to dig her canine incisors into its flesh and lift it out of the pan. I blamed Jim for the missing turkey until I saw the drippings on the floor and followed them to the porch where “Bad Dog” was getting ready to give thanks and chow down. After wrestling all but one leg from her growling mouth, I pieced the bird back together and fed it to the relatives who had arrived empty-handed.
Then there’s my favorite Thanksgiving—the one where a relative got so violently ill that the cops and ambulance were called. They arrived lights and sirens blaring signaling the neighbors to their front porches. Other families might have been fazed by someone being carried passed them on a stretcher. Not mine. Everyone remained seated at the table passing the turkey, corn, beans, stuffing, potatoes, and wine. A few guests even wiped their hands on the stretcher’s sheets as it rolled passed them completely ignoring the relative who was lying prostrate upon it battling consciousness. There is a happy ending, though. That night I was awaken at 1a.m. as the relative, released from the hospital, came to claim their Thanksgiving dinner and a martini—with a twist. I didn’t say it was a happy ending for me.
So I’m gearing up for hosting Thanksgiving this year. And by “gearing up” I mean drinking steadily. Alcohol is my Teflon against snide remarks, Debbie Downers, uninvited raw sewerage, turkey genitalia, criticism, Bad Dogs, oven doors that just won’t close, and the fact that I am not an orphan. As always, my door is open to anyone without a family. After being with mine, they give thanks for having no family.
May your Thanksgiving be quiet, uneventful, and easy. If it’s not, check the address—you’re probably at my house. Bring wine and Advil. And don’t worry about driving home. The cops will probably be here so they can escort you.