It’s roughly three days and counting until Thanksgiving. The turkey has been in the fridge since last Thursday. A 22 lb. hen waiting in cold storage for someone to invade her personal space. Extra parts stored up inside the backend that need to be surgically removed. Oils and spices and ancestral concoctions will be rubbed and poked and sprinkled; treatments intended to turn a cold dead bird into a delicacy fit for the special occasion.
When I was a kid, the Thanksgiving dance was choreographed by my mama. Her kitchen could have been the backdrop for a classic Norman Rockwell work of art. The old GE radio on the shelf tuned in to WSB. Bing and Dean and Sammy and Doris Day singing the songs of the holidays. A wooden bowl of flower with the sifter sitting on top. The huge porcelain roasting pan sat on the counter; dark blue with a million little white dots.
We never used that pan for anything else, I don’t think. It lived up in the attic except for Thanksgiving.
Sometime the day before, Mama would tell me, “Go up in the attic and get my roasting pan for me.”
We had a pull-down set of attic stairs with a wooden handle on the end of a small cord that dangled. I had to get a stool to reach the handle. The springs creaked and strained, and I was always concerned that the unfolding stairs would take my head off if I didn’t pay close attention to what I was doing.
The attic was cold. A single light bulb on a pull-chord. Old stuff scattered everywhere. The things that didn’t get used very often, like the roasting pan. Some things that never got used and that would one day be cleaned out and thrown away long after my folks were gone from this earth.
I didn’t think about that then, but I do now. Every time I go up in my own attic, I am aware of what my kids have facing them. And it makes me chuckle.
I have been especially focused on Thanksgiving this year because, even though Beth is gone, everyone is coming to my house for the feast. All the kids said that they wanted to be here, and cook here, and step around each other in my kitchen.
“You don’t have to worry about anything,” they said. “We’ll do all the cooking.”
My assignment was to buy the turkey and that’s it. I have been feeling pretty proud of myself that I got that done a week ahead of time. My youngest daughter sent me a chart so the old guy would know how long it takes to thaw out a 22 lb. bird. Six days in the fridge, according to chart.
Pride goeth before a great fall. That’s what the Book says.
Emily asked me yesterday, “So, what are we having for supper on Wednesday?”
I felt my nerves fray just a little bit. “Wednesday?”
“Yeah,” she said. “We’ll all be here Wednesday. We should probably think about what we’re going to have.”
It all started coming back to me like reruns of the Waltons. A house full of family. Food piled up on the counter and in the fridge for days. Beth would start getting ready on the Saturday before. A grocery cart piled above the rim. Every meal charted out and planned ahead of time. Casseroles cooked and stuck in the freezer. Crock pots fired up with things like chili and soup and chowder. A veritable smorgasbord for all those other meals that have to be eaten before we even get to the turkey on Thursday.
I’m guessing that Emily could see the panic in my expression. The only thing I had thought about was the turkey. A classic rookie mistake. But a major oversite for the host of Thanksgiving.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll make a couple of crock pots of chili and chicken noodle soup. That should take care of it.”
She’s a trooper. She’s also very pregnant, about two weeks to D-day. She looks like she swallowed our 22 lb. turkey. She sits a lot and doesn’t really need to be doing much. I just hope little Naomi sits tight until we get past Thursday.
I sat down and called Laura to inform her of my panic attack. I was looking for advice. Chili and soup had Wednesday evening covered, but there would be at least two or three other opportunities for breakfast and lunch over the long weekend. Leftovers would help, but there’s only so much turkey a fella can eat.
We talked about a grocery list. She had one solution to offer. “I’ll make a breakfast casserole and bring that with me.” A lot of times, Beth would keep it pretty simple. A sausage and cheese dish. Maybe a pan of cinnamon rolls. We always have plenty of coffee. Breakfast would be the easy part. I make a mean stack of pancakes.
I told her, “I can go to the grocery store on Tuesday evening after work and pick up extra bread and bacon and eggs.”
I was beginning to come down off my nervous high. Sitting on the couch and eating almost an entire bag of chips helped.
Of course, the big issue is the turkey. That’s the centerpiece. Everyone sitting around the table, settling in for the meal of the century. Grandma Walton walks in from the kitchen with the perfectly roasted, brown skinned bird amidst all the oohs and awhs of the fork-carrying google-eyed patrons of Thanksgiving. Norman sitting in the corner with his paint brush and easel.
In case you are wondering, I’m not cooking the turkey. I know my limits. Marshall spoke up fast when we had this discussion. He said with the confidence of a bonified chef, “I’ll take care of the turkey, dressing and gravy. Y’all can handle everything else.” There was no fuss. No further discussion.
He’s actually a good cook when he sets his mind to do something. He did the bird and fixings a few years ago to give Beth a Thanksgiving off, and it was pretty darn good.
I’m breathing a little easier. Only one trip to the store is needed and everything should be in order. The game is on the TV. Max and I go out in the dark for our evening walk. A set of headlights is coming up the drive. Marshall has been gone and is pulling in. I don’t ask him about his schedule.
He stops for a moment when he sees me in his headlights.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to be this late.” I didn’t think about it being late. I don’t manage his schedule.
“Where you been?” I’m just making chit-chat.
“I went to the grocery store. I figured we’d need a few extra things for this week with everybody being at the house. So, I picked up more bacon and eggs and bread for sandwiches. I had a hard time finding fresh cranberries. That’s what took me so long.”
As he drove away, I knew right then, standing in the dark, that this would be a great Thanksgiving. No worries after all.
I’ve got it all under control.