Both of our families maintained strong holiday traditions. Both expected their children to continue to participate after marriage. Allowances were made once grandchildren entered the scene but only specifically for a few hours on Christmas day.
Early on, this methodology worked for us. It was a fair and even distribution of our time and attention. But truth be told, some years it was simply the fulfilling of expectations and being dutiful children. On more than a few occasions it caused marital strife.
And so it came to pass that my first Thanksgiving, mine to host and mine to cook and mine to serve came about as a result of family tension. So much tension, in fact, that my husband made the decision to forgo his family’s Thanksgiving. The story has been retold many times however this is the first time I’ve actually written it down to re-tell it in this forum.
Given my passion for food and my desire to pull off “the best Thanksgiving ever” (I was in a full-blown Martha at that point) I believe it could be said that I was on top of my game in planning for the big day. And the plan was to host our immediate family along with a few close friends. I was secretly thrilled, giddy in fact — a right of passage. Granted, I got in on a technicality, but hey, if that’s what it took, far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth, or so I thought…
The day arrived and everything was falling into place. The turkey had been defrosting in the fridge for a couple of days; the giblets were simmering on the stove top. Pies had been baked the day before. The stuffing had been prepared and was awaiting the oven. Feeling generally satisfied, a feeling I have come to know now as pride (as in go-eth before the fall), I turned to my husband and brother who were pouring drinks in the kitchen.
“I’m waiting for the oven to preheat. When it beeps, would you put the turkey in the oven? It’s ready to go and I’d like to run upstairs and get a quick shower.”
The response was in the affirmative and I headed upstairs to hit the shower and put on a new outfit I had purchased just for the big day.
I came downstairs in my bathrobe with my hair up in a towel and took a peak into the kitchen. Not so curiously, my brother and husband were in the kitchen making drinks. I glanced over at the stovetop to check on the giblets and noticed one of them had attempted to set the timer.
“You guys,” I laughed, “thanks for putting the turkey in — I know you were trying to be helpful, but the timer is set wrong.”
My husband looked over at the stove and a look of alarm quickly darkened his face. “Oh my God,” he said, “we turned the self-cleaning mode on!”
My brother said,”what do you mean, “we”?”
“No you didn’t,” I said. “And anyway, the safety arm has to be in the locked position in order for self clean to work. No worries.”
“I’m telling you,” he said more emphatically, “the self cleaning mode is turned on. The arm is in the locked position.”
Now mind you, I’m the cook in the family and my husband had operated the appliance maybe once since we moved in, so I confess, I was somewhat dismissive of his position.
“And you’ve cleaned this oven how many times?” I said, ” I know what I’m talking about. Don’t worry.”
At this point, all the signs were evident to the average male bystander that I had unknowingly thrown down some kind of challenge. Clearly this aspect of the male psyche completely eludes me as evidenced by what followed next.
“I’ll prove it to you.” And with that, he threw the self-cleaning arm into the locked position and I watched, horrified, as the oven’s temperature began to climb. I slowly turned to him.
“Are you sure about that?” my words cutting like a knife.
I went over to the bar they had set up and poured myself some bourbon. I watched as he tried to throw the arm into reverse. Nada. Nothin doin. You see oven manufacturers design this special mode with a locking mechanism for a reason. Because the oven gets so hot it incinerates everything inside. It would be problematic if anyone could just, say, open it.
I watched as he pushed every possible combination of buttons on the control panel. I watched him as he took a metal hanger and tried to shove it between the control panel and the locking mechanism in order to trip the latch that kept it firmly in its place. I calmly suggested to him that before he too became incinerated he might want to flip the switch on the electrical panel that controlled the kitchen.
I took a long drink of my bourbon and looked both he and my brother in the eyes and declared, “I don’t care what you do but you better find a way to get that turkey out of that oven. This is NOT happening on my first Thanksgiving.”
I walked back upstairs, sedating myself with bourbon, trying to maintain reason, calm…
A little while later I came back downstairs, having gotten dressed and dried my hair. I walked into the kitchen to find my raw, uncooked turkey on the counter. I looked at the two of them who were grinning ear to ear as a result of their accomplishment. Almost like golden retrievers who have dropped a dead animal at your feet.
And speaking of feet, I glanced down at the floor and found oven parts. In fact, as I looked around, it became clear that they had dismantled the entire oven, bolt by bolt, in order to free my Thanksgiving hostage.
I walked over to the bourbon. I put both of my hands down on the counter and bowed my head. No, I wasn’t praying, I was simply breathing deeply between my clenched teeth. I poured myself another one and turned around to face them.
“Our guests are arriving in two hours and there’s a raw turkey on the counter and an oven in pieces. What exactly do you expect me to serve?”
“We could go out?” my husband suggested tentatively.
“MY FIRST THANKSGIVING!!!! What? There’s not enough drama in your family you have to create some in ours? You find a way to get that turkey back in my oven.”
And I walked out again.
I sat on the edge of our bed trying to come up with some kind of contingency plan. Had I been a more accomplished cook I might have been able to problem-solve an alternative. Maybe the bourbon was contributing to my lack of clarity as well. A kind of panic was setting in. Additionally, having eaten virtually nothing on the big day (you know, saving up or making room for all that food I was going to consume) I’m sure I was getting drunk and angry — a lovely combination for any new hostess. “I’m sure nothing redolent of Martha,” I muttered.
I took a deep breath, steadied myself and headed back downstairs, trying to think of sandwich combinations I could serve…
There was my oven, on, and with a turkey roasting inside. Both men were now doing their fair share of drinking and strangely, neither of them could quite look me in the eye. Shame, I’m sure, I thought. Embarrassment and guilt, no doubt.
I increased the temperature of the oven in order to make up for the lost roasting time and prayed that this compensation would not be the ruination of my reputation.
The guests arrived. Appetizers were served. Drinks were flowing. Finally, the moment of truth arrived, I held my breath, and everyone complemented the cook profusely for a delicious turkey and wonderful Thanksgiving meal. Was that relief I saw in the eyes of my sibling? My spouse?
I could have done without the drama and the uncertainty. And certainly the alcohol. I was exhausted by the time everyone left. My husband and brother congratulated each other but again, avoided conversing with me. I put the children to bed and laid down. I was too tired to reflect on their strange behavior, let alone, tackle kitchen clean up.
I awoke the next day, determined to address the kitchen. But first, coffee. I’m not a morning person and caffeine is absolutely necessary. I’m told that if you find me sipping my first cup, I’m actually hugging my mug. Cupping it with my hands and inhaling the aroma. I know for a fact it helps my eyes come into focus and I looked around the kitchen, truly, for the first time that morning. The usual pots, pans, dishes, etc. were evident, but there was something at the far end of the counter I had not noticed before.
It seems that putting the oven back together was harder than taking it apart. There, off to the side, were a pile of oven parts…