When I was in my 20s and my mother was still alive, she broke her hip a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was a major family event each year and my mom had always done it all.
Stuck in a wheelchair, she was sad and unhappy that she wouldn’t be able to handle Thanksgiving that year. No worries, Mom, we all said, we’ll do it. My siblings and I would be there from our various corners of the Northeast U.S. and we decided we’d rally for the cause. My father, never one to cook, would also help out.
It was the most disastrous Thanksgiving in anyone’s memory, before or since.
My brother was responsible for several highly popular vegetable dishes, especially important to me since I was vegetarian by then. My father was in charge of the turkey and I, the pies. To make it easier on me, Mom had even purchased ready-made pie crusts in lieu of my great grandmother’s Scottish pie crust recipe. I know my sisters must also have had specific jobs but I can’t recall what they were…probably because they did theirs properly.
I remember all of us laughing a great deal, joking around as we tend to do, all talking at once in a New York kind of way. It was certainly a bit pathetic that it was taking five adults to cook the meal one woman had handled for 40+ years. But we were having lots of fun while Mom coordinated, supervised, and instructed. Maybe too much fun.
Thirty minutes before our traditional 3:00 mealtime, things began to unravel. With surprising speed.
The first hints something was wrong were the thin swirls of smoke rising from two different stove burners. It seems my brother had burned the green beans and some other vegetable dish. My mother was fairly calm about it. After all, we had plenty of other food.
Not for long. A few minutes later, my father dropped the turkey roasting pan as he pulled it from the oven. He leaped one way and sizzling pan and turkey leaped the other. The turkey bounced from the pan and rolled over on its back, as though begging once again for its little life.
At that very moment I turned from the counter, a hot apple pie in my two oven-mitted hands. But there was now a turkey where there hadn’t been one a moment before. I tripped over it and the pie flew from my hands, shooting across the floor like a hockey puck. It stopped with a sickening slosh against the wheel of my mother’s wheelchair. The top of the pie broke open and baked apple slices flew out like a mini fruit fireworks show.
Which actually turned out to be a good thing. Because I had failed to take the clear plastic liner out of the ready-made pie crust before putting the apples in. There sat the now-empty foil tin, with the bottom crust and plastic liner, melted and reeking of burned plastic.
Everyone froze, voices halting abruptly. Blackened veggies hissed in the sink. The turkey stared up pathetically from the floor. Mom wiggled a piece of hot apple off her toe. All eyes pivoted toward her but bodies didn’t move.
She looked stricken. Then she drew in a breath and let out a yelp that was about as unladylike as I ever heard from my Katharine Gibbs-educated mom. Then another. And another. That’s when I realized she was laughing so hard she could only yelp. Tears started to run down her cheeks.
The rest of us began laughing hysterically, too, and for a few seconds the kitchen looked and sounded suspiciously like an asylum.
“This is the most fun I’ve ever had at Thanksgiving,” Mom finally gasped. “Now pick up that turkey and let’s see what we can do about it.”
As I was writing this story I started to laugh so hard that tears ran down my cheeks and the laptop almost fell on the floor. Watching me laugh, my husband started to belly laugh too, though he had no idea why we were laughing. Here we were, two states and 20 years away, my mom long gone, my dad gone now too, in hysterics about the most disastrous Thanksgiving ever.
Because it was the best Thanksgiving ever. The one where Mom made do, we tried to rally, most of us blew it, and we still made memories I’ll laugh about when I’m 100.
Happy Thanksgiving, folks. May your Thanksgiving be one where joy erupts even when chaos threatens to take over.