Wild Turkey by Paula J. Wilshe

Happy Thanksgiving!

As I have mentioned here and there – my mom was a fantabulous writer – especially her humor stories. And so, in honor of the day, I am dusting off her collection of stories and want to share this true (only slightly embellished) story of a Thanksgiving from yesteryear. This story was written by her and told from her point of view. I was in high school. Rick = my dad.

Wild Turkey

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It is a warm, cozy, family holiday without the frenzied stress of Christmas. Because it heralds the beginning of the official Christmas season, Thanksgiving carries with it wonderful feelings – anticipation, appreciation of family and friends, and the glow of recapturing one’s childhood for a bit, as we enjoy the sights and sounds of the season.

I take Thanksgiving very seriously.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that I truly enjoy hosting. In fact, I believe there’s been only one Thanksgiving in the last eighteen years that I have not done. I enjoy planning, shopping and preparing the meal. I take great joy from the knowledge that the larders are stocked, and that I will soon be enjoying the company of those who mean much to me. I begin my preparations about two weeks in advance with the traditional Baking of the Pumpkin Bread. I normally make about sixty loaves – ostensibly so we will have some for Thanksgiving, but the rest is carefully wrapped and frozen to be used as gifts, or served with coffee to unexpected guests during the holiday season. When I am wrapped up in my pre-holiday preparations it also serves as an easy breakfast for the kids if we run out of Cheerios. Pumpkin is like squash. Squash is a vegetable. Vegetables are good for children. See? It works. That’s part of the magic of the season.

The weekend before Thanksgiving I visited a local orchard and purchased apples and cranberries. I spent two days cooking and milling, ending up with more than enough cranberry and applesauce for Thursday’s dinner. I always make lots of extra, which I freeze on the shelves not filled with pumpkin bread. I find that during the cold, dark winter months this taste of autumn adds color and flavor to a dreary dinner, besides which, all you have to do is defrost it. Sometimes I line up the freezer jars in patterns on the window sill before I freeze them – the sunlight glows through them into the kitchen and adds a festive and colorful touch until I can get the Christmas decorations up.

On Tuesday I laboriously prepared my vegetable dishes – fresh squash, potatoes, hundreds of little white onions and stuffing. I made two apple pies and one pound cake, which unfortunately did not make it to Thanksgiving. It was, however, very much enjoyed by the children who assumed it was intended for their after school dining pleasure, and waffled it down on Tuesday afternoon.

On Wednesday evening I assembled the ingredients for the hot cider recipe, thinking I could take care of that on Thursday morning in my trusty crock pot. I stuffed the turkey and then Rick mopped and shined the floor. Since this was my Thanksgiving to work, I popped the turkey into the oven at eleven pm on a very low heat to roast slowly through the night. We planned to eat at noon, and I went to bed thinking how wonderful the house would smell when I rose the next morning. Exhaustion overtook me, and I slept the sound, dreamy sleep of one who has everything under control. Also the one who has taken two Tylenol PM tablets an hour before retiring.

Welcome to my nightmare.

At 5:25 am, Rick nudged me and strongly urged me to turn off the clock radio. I told him, not kindly, that I had not set it the night before. “But it’s beeping,” he insisted. I strongly urged him to go back to sleep and leave me alone.

At 5:28 am Devon rushed into the room clutching her night-night strand, an indefinable piece of material that is the only remainder of her childhood blanket, and is often put to use in times of stress. “The smoke alarm is going off and the house is full of smoke,” she whispered urgently.

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter, still reluctant to leave the folds of sleep behind me. I had been dreaming that the Beatles were coming over for Thanksgiving dinner, and was still trying to remember if I’d reminded Ringo to bring the soda.

The kitchen was indeed filled with smoke, but I remained calm, knowing that it was just the juice sloshing off the turkey that was causing the problem. I’d bought a huge turkey, and it was dicey sucking off the juice with the turkey baster, but I was doing all right. I asked Rick to reset the smoke alarm upstairs (it was still beeping), carefully wiped up the little bit I’d spilled, and closed the oven door. With visions of giblets dancing in my head, I prepared to go back to bed. I decided if I couldn’t get hold of Ringo, probably Paul wouldn’t mind stopping by the 7-Eleven on his way over.

Suddenly I turned around and saw great billows of smoke pouring out of the oven. Keeping a calm head, after all I work in an Emergency Department, I called Rick. “I think the turkey is on fire. Could you take it out of the oven, please?”

Rick pulled out the half-baked bird, which was not engulfed in flames by the way, and closed the oven tight. Smoke continued to belch from the oven, a little darker, and a little heavier than before. “Maybe you’d better go upstairs and get the fire extinguisher,” he suggested, “just in case.”

I went upstairs and turned on the light. “Why are you getting the fire extinguisher?” Devon asked. “Is the turkey on fire?”

“No, the oven,” I told her, dusting off the red canister.

“Oh, okay,” she murmured, turning over.

As she began to drift back to sleep it occurred to me that I probably would not be seeing my bed again that morning. “Tell Ringo not to forget the soda,” I told her urgently.

“What?” she asked, opening one eye and peering at me.

“Never mind,” I shook my head. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Honey?” came Rick’s voice from the foot of the steps. “Do you want to hurry up with that fire extinguisher? I need it, like, now.”

As I raced around the kitchen doorway I was able to see the flames bursting out of the oven. In a fluid motion Rick grabbed the fire extinguisher from my hands and pulled the pin. He began spraying it in the oven and the flames went right out. he turned to me and smiled. “Well,” he said, “that was scary.” As the words died on his lips, the flames surged again, and he turned back for another round of chemical warfare. This happened THREE successive times, like those trick birthday candles which might be supplied by some merry prankster, the ones that re-light incessantly after they have been blown out.

As I searched blindly through the smoke for the telephone, wondering if I should put on coffee for the fire department, the flames suddenly went out. Rick and I looked around at our previously spotless kitchen, now completely covered with a fine white powder. It looked like the remains of a wild cocaine extravaganza.

Rick looked around the kitchen searching for something good to say about the affair. There wasn’t much. “Well,” he said, “well, at least there’s no gutting.”

“No,” I agreed, “there’s no gutting.”

Reality began to set in. In six hours I was hosting sixteen people, some of whom are not fussy, for a Thanksgiving meal. The turkey was only half done, and I stood helplessly in the middle of my smoky, chemically residued kitchen.

“We’ll get it cleaned up,” Rick said, trying to be cheerful. “We’ve got six hours.”

Eventually the situation resolved. I had to wake Donna up and tell her that her brother was on the way with the turkey. She took it well. I was on the phone with her when he got there and I heard him boom, “Are youse the guys what ordered the turkey?” He also hollered, “Turkey, turkey!” in a parody of a recent Little Caesar’s commercial, but this hit a little close to home and I wondered if the local franchise offered turkey topping for their pizzas should we be forced to go that route.

With a little luck and a lot of elbow grease, as well as turkey grease, which was plentiful, I began to clean up the kitchen. I knew that somehow we’d be able to pull it off, and Rick arrived home moments later and promised to clean the oven and redo the floor.

I told him I’d felt bad waking his sister up, and that, for the first few moments of our conversation, she had seemed barely conscious and half asleep. This seemed to awaken something in him. He looked at me oddly and said, “By the way, Donna told me to tell you not to worry about the soda, Ringo is bringing it.”