A Tale of Two Turkeys

Posted on December 21, 2013 under Storytelling with no comments yet


When you ask people about Christmas, what is the first thing that comes to mind?  Is it the idea of spending time with family and friends or the exchange of gifts?  Is it the beautiful music sung at midnight Mass to celebrate the birth of the Saviour?  Is it the chance to put your feet up and relax?  Surely, it is all of these things but, truth be told, my big deal about Christmas is the ability to eat and drink with reckless abandon.  No box of chocolates is safe.  Ditto for fruitcake, plum pudding,  sherry trifle, eggnog and shortbread cookies.  And nobody is watching your alcohol consumption because they are too busy refilling their own glasses.  The centerpiece for most of us, though, is the turkey dinner.

We all learned how to cook at our mother’s side and watching her manufacture Christmas dinner was something bordering on the miraculous.  And so it is in my own married life that my wife and I have mastered the dance.  Not the “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” but the waltz of preparing Christmas dinner.  This presentation is exquisitely choreographed and has been honed to perfection over the last thirty years.  Like ballroom dance partners, the moves are automatic and there are no words exchanged.

The day before Christmas I go hunting for old scraps of bread in the freezer.  You all know exactly what I mean.  Lurking somewhere in the bowels of your freezer are bags of unused rolls from the lobster boil last summer; a half-eaten bag of hot dogs buns from the wiener roast and odds and ends of various and sundry loaves of bread.  These are brought to the light of day and allowed to thaw.  Later I break them into small, bite sized pieces and place them in a large bowl to become dry and crusty overnight.  I can still picture the massive steel bread making bowl my mother used for the stuffing.  When you’re cooking a 50 pound turkey, you need a lot of bread.

Most people get up on Christmas morning and their first thought is about the presents.  Mine is about the onions.  Even before putting the coffee on I am crying my eyes out cutting up those pungent globes, a crucial ingredient in the stuffing.  The onions are swimming in a sea of artery clogging butter in an old cast iron frying pan as my dance partner makes her appearance.  Before uttering the words “Merry Christmas “ or “ Good Morning”, I thrust a cup of steaming hot coffee into her waiting hands.  Better to have these hands around a cup of coffee than my neck.  When she is sufficiently caffeinated, she completes the stuffing and the turkey is placed in the oven.

Potatoes peeled.  Check.  Carrots and turnips sliced. Check.  Everything is on autopilot now and a few minutes before dinner is served, I face the enemy one more time.  The onions.  The finishing touch to a Christmas dinner is the gravy and my wife makes world class gravy, provided I first get the onions simmering in turkey drippings in the old cast iron pan.  Throw in a pot of peas, some cranberries and a fabulous trifle and you have your traditional festive meal.  The dance usually ends with me stripping the turkey carcass and getting the bones simmering for turkey soup.  My wife puts away all the leftover food and I tackle the mountain of pots and pans.  It doesn’t get much better than this but it certainly can be worse – much worse.

In the early to mid ‘70’s, I was living in Victoria, B.C. trying to “find myself”.  A lot of other long haired freaks just out of university were doing the same thing.  Many of us were merely trying to regain consciousness after the turbulence of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s.  We were the Woodstock generation (New York, not New Brunswick) and we ingested our share of liquids and leafy greens during college days.

And so it was one Christmas that a few family members along with some newfound friends decided to have an old fashioned Christmas.  If our mother could turn out a fabulous dinner on the east coast then so could her offspring in the west.  Now you have to understand that as newly-minted graduates, we didn’t have a lot of money.  What we had a lot of was debt – student loans.  Buying a turkey was an expensive proposition.  Even buying a pizza now and then was a stretch and occasionally required ingenuity. One evening we ordered a pizza late at night.  After placing the order and marshalling our financial resources, we realized, too late, that we were a few dollars short.  Undaunted, we marched down to the pizza shop and, en route, composed a song, featuring the name of the pizzeria.  We stood sheepishly at the counter and stated our case and sang our song for the owner.  He was either impressed, tone deaf or just wanted us to leave because he ended up giving us the pizza.

We managed to procure the turkey and that Christmas morning we stuffed it and put it in the oven before dutifully going off to Mass.  One family member was living in an apartment and that had become Christmas dinner headquarters.  It was sparsely furnished and we felt that we deserved better than the cheap cutlery and flatware that graced her kitchen.  So we cajoled a friend into loaning us some fine china including Waterford Crystal wine goblets as we would no doubt be drinking expensive (!) wine with dinner.

Upon our return from Mass, with the unmistakeable aroma of turkey filling the apartment and the joy of the Nativity in our bosoms, we set about to prepare the feast.  And then, someone suggested we have a drink, a toast, as it were, to the Prince of Peace.

I remember that a concerted effort was made to prepare the meal just as Mom had done countless times.  The only difference was that mom wasn’t intoxicated as she went about her business.  We managed to peel the potatoes, carrots and turnips and actually had them in pots of water on the stove top.  Only problem was that we got distracted and forgot to turn on the elements.

We were momentarily snapped out of our reverie with the sound of the oven timer, indicating that the turkey was cooked.  That wasn’t the only thing that was cooked.  The sound of the timer seemed to signal round two and with that, what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a forty-ouncer of Captain Morgan and twenty four shiny beer.

When we finally discovered the well-done turkey still sitting in the oven, the idea of a traditional Christmas dinner was definitely in the rear view mirror. The unfortunate fowl was placed in the middle of the table on a platter and we proceeded to attack it.  It was hand to hand combat and when the dust settled, the bird looked like it had stepped on a landmine.  At one point I distinctly remember someone juggling the drumsticks as if preparing for the busker festival.

Mercifully for the turkey, the indignities ceased and the Christmas Day massacre came to an end to the heartfelt singing of Silent Night, in perfect harmony.

At least there were no dishes to clean.


Enjoy this? Visit the rest of my website to enjoy more of my work or buy my books!
Highland Hearing Clinic

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.