Time to Buy the Turkey

It’s time to start planning for another Thanksgiving. I know this, because at my grocery store, the featured meat case has turkeys in it and there is an archway of artificial autumn leaves at the cigarette/lottery ticket/customer service counter. (In Florida, it’s important to pay attention to these clues since we often forget what season it is. If you see corned beef and leprechauns, it’s St. Patrick’s Day; ham and pastel bunnies, Easter. We rely on the meat-and-mascot reminders to tell us where we are on the calendar.)

Lots of my friends have been talking about what they’re going to do for Thanksgiving. It’s pretty much the same exact plan - getting together with family to eat a turkey dinner - which makes us the most predictable, boring nationality on the planet. Wouldn’t we be way cooler if we observed a tradition like tar-and-feathering someone every four years?

The only thing spicing up some of my friends’ Thanksgiving get-togethers is the dysfunctionality of their families.

I get a kick out of kooky families. Despite all the drama, yelling and broken wine glasses, they are having way more fun than the normal people. And I think they wind themselves up so much that they end up sleeping better. At least the ones who do the crying.

Mary Engelbreit can say whatever she wants, but no one person put the fun in dysfunctional, it was always there.  And it doesn’t come out with any more glory than at Thanksgiving.

From the practical joke Jacob played on his dad with the old furry arm trick, to more modern day tales of sons coming out of the closet, screwing with your own family is the only thing that distinguishes one family get-together from the next.

Because there’s nothing else to do. The whole holiday is based around a dinner of, quite frankly, not the best food the Americans can come up with. A meal of roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and cranberry sauce is pretty simple and straightforward. You’d get kicked out of the gourmet dinner club if you served it. And I don’t know about you, but my family won’t let me tinker with that menu. One year I made Italian stuffing with pine nuts and parmesan cheese and my kids wished me dead and threatened to move to Canada.

So you cook that food and eat it and then you look around and you’ve gathered all these people in your house and what do you do with them?

You can’t do a jigsaw puzzle, the dining room table is in use. You can’t leave the house, it’s too cold and the women are wearing party shoes. You can watch football but eventually, one of the women will start to talk about the tight, shiny pants on the football players and all the men will leave and then what do you have? A bachelor party with no bachelor. That’s not Thanksgiving.

My own family has evolved into a pretty normal bunch of people, so I don’t have any modern day tales of wild Thanksgiving shenanigans. But in my parents’ era, there is one story that was told and retold to me for years: The year my dad kept going to the bar instead of buying the turkey.

My mom had five kids, a sense of responsibility to uphold family traditions, and no driver’s license. So she had to rely on my dad to go to Barth Farms to get the turkey for Thanksgiving. The other groceries she would get by walking to Loblaw’s in the square of Hubbard, with our wagon, plus a couple of kids to help her carry bags.

The turkey, however, was my dad’s responsibility. A few days before Thanksgiving, my mom told my dad to go buy the turkey. He took the car keys and appeared to be leaving to go get the turkey, but he in fact, went to his brother Henry’s house, picked him up and they went to the VFW and drank. He came home hours later without the turkey. My mom was probably a little steamed. She told him just for that, he had to go out the next night and get the turkey. The next night, my dad went straight to Hen’s house, picked him up and they went to the VFW. Still no turkey.

To my dad’s credit, I think he had every intention of buying the turkey. He just wanted to take along his brother for company. And for a couple of Irishmen whose own father had been - and I’m just guessing here - unable to pull off successfully picking up a turkey on his best day, he didn’t stand a chance.

The second time my mom was really mad. The Laney family legend has him doing it at least one more time, but I’m not sure about that. The important part was the result: My mom made my dad take all the kids to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. In the 1950s, going to a restaurant for a holiday meal meant you were either old and lonely or rich and spoiled beyond belief.

We were neither, but yet there they were, in a restaurant on Thanksgiving day. I was an infant at the time and didn’t get to go. My mom stayed home with me and together we martyred ourselves.

Since then, our Thanksgiving gatherings have been tame. We have even waded into the waters of bringing outsiders to our family dinners, without horrible results.

This year, I’m skipping Thanksgiving altogether, going to Key West for five days with my husband, daughter and mother-in-law, and none of them will care what we eat on Thursday. In fact, we can all get sloppy drunk and not piss anyone off.  I’d like to think my dad will be raising a glass to that.

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