Dad would truss the now burgeoning bird in the kitchen sink and transfer it to a huge roasting pan that was generally relegated to the basement except for two days a year. In addition to string holding the huge drumsticks together, he would use a large safety pin to keep undistinguishable flaps together. More butter was added to the exterior of the bird, and Dad would gently caress the pimply skin with more seasoning before stuffing it into the oven for the day. It would be a few hours before the aroma of butter, and sage, and poultry filled the house.
While Dad settled in to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on TV (According the Nielsen ratings, we were one of seven families in the U.S. to tune in), Mom would prepare the dining room for the feast to come. Out came the good china with the silver edges and the real silver – both forbidden from going in the dishwasher. Out came the serving pieces – also prohibited from the dishwasher, including the silver, oval shaped bowl reserved for the creamed onions. Creamed onions were always a source of contention in our family. I’m not sure of their origins in food history, but half of us loved them, and the other half were completely repulsed.
On this one day a year, Mom would set out a bowl of mysterious nuts – mostly unidentifiable because they were all still in their shell. Beside the bowl she placed a hinged silver cracker pick to assist with nut extraction. We mainly used these to cause harm to our siblings when Mom’s head was turned. In addition, candy dishes were dusted off and filled with mints that seemed to have quite limited availability. These were only seen during the holiday season and were meted out very sparingly.
The crowning touch to the table, which defied all logic and taste, and, like the creamed onions, had questionable origins, was the paper, honeycombed turkey centerpiece. It had been stored in the corner cabinet for years. I’m not sure how it survived the various nutcrackers and other limited-use utensils tossed in there with it. My mother, who thought cleavage and walking while smoking was tacky, was somehow enamored with the paper turkey – most likely a gift from one of her eight children – which one, I’m sure she forgot.
As the day progressed, and the smell of turkey overpowered us, we would begin congregating in the kitchen for the ritual best described as “Who does Dad love most?” Dad would always carve the turkey in the kitchen, using an ancient electric knife. I never understood the concept of an electric knife. It seemed a little excessive for poultry. But after the stuffing had been removed from not one but two holes, he would begin the annual skin appropriation. Although there were disagreements about creamed onions, we were all of us of the opinion that the absolute best part of the bird was the skin. Dad would trim pieces off as he worked away and we would all jostle our way to the front of the line as he doled out pieces of the crispy, fatty stuff. My brother Greg, one of the needy middle children, always claimed he got the biggest piece, therefore making him the favorite heir. I’ve never shared this information with my siblings, but I, the youngest, cutest, and most favored, was always given an extra piece when my siblings were busy stealing mints and cracking each other’s nuts in the dining room.
The Thanksgiving meal was made special by all the things that we only saw once or twice a year. The good china and silver that had to be hand washed, the creamed onions, the nut crackers, fancy bowls and that tacky paper turkey. The food coma that followed was always accentuated with arguments about who had to hand wash and then dry the dishes because my Mom also thought dish drainers were tacky. The paper turkey usually stayed out until Christmas.