Thirty two years ago, I had something to prove. I was recently married, and so, in fact, I had a lot to prove. First of all, that I could actually cook a turkey. I had never cooked a turkey, but I was good at following directions. I got advice from my “Nana”, Grandma Jenny Silver. She said, “First you have to wash the turkey inside and out. Then use a knife to scrape the skin—those guys who butcher the turkey—they know NOTHING! They always leave some feathers and quills and you have to get them out. Then cut an onion in half and put the onion, and a few peeled carrots, a few celery sticks and a clove of garlic inside the turkey. Rub salt, pepper, and a little bit of paprika on the skin. Refrigerate overnight. And THEN you will have a very tasty turkey.” The turkey was perfect.
I had something else to prove—that I could make a family out of my disjointed, dysfunctional relatives. I was the second wife, and my husband’s first marriage had failed. My new in-laws were not convinced that I could make a go of it. My parents lived 2,000 miles away. My grandparents were in their eighties and in failing health. It did not look promising, but I was determined. In my 1200 square foot house in Sherborn Massachusetts, with its tiny dining room that could seat six comfortably, eight under duress, I cooked that turkey and assembled the relatives. The dinner was a success. Everyone got along, and I masqueraded as a gracious hostess, aided and abetted by a bottle of Wild Turkey mixed with Coca Cola, a gift from my somewhat anxious husband. I considered it a prelude to having a real family, a house full of kids and laughter and dogs that I could call my own.
I cooked those turkeys for the next 30 years, and amazingly, most of the time, everyone showed up—kids, dogs, girlfriends, boyfriends, cousins, aunts, uncles and inlaws. But somewhere around the thirtieth Thanksgiving, I started to get tired. The huge turkey, the stuffing cooked ahead of time, the endless pulling of a heavy bird out of the oven to baste, and assess, and replace—the awful green bean casserole and the gooey marshmallows on top of the pureed sweet potatoes—over the years it became less a labor of love, than just– a labor. Driving home from work one evening three years ago, I saw a sign in the big picture window at Brett’s Bar B Que—“GET YOUR THANKSGIVING TURKEY HERE”. I thought, “Hmmmmm, maybe next year.” Two years ago, I ordered a cooked turkey from Brett’s ahead of time. It was perfect. Last year I did the same. I had nearly twenty people at my house. For the first time ever, we couldn’t all sit at the same table. And my dining table is huge— it seats 14 people easily. I cooked everything else, including a perfect beef tenderloin. I am a meat eater, and while everyone lapsed into a turkey stupor, I was happy with my roast beef. I ate standing up, and vowed never to do it again.
My fantasy last year was “next year in Santa Fe.” I had visions of Thanksgiving dinner prepared for me at the Inn of the Anasazi, eaten leisurely in front of a pinon wood fire, dishes cleared and washed by someone else, well aged Scotch after dinner followed by a deep sleep under a down duvet in front of the kiva fireplace, Navajo rugs on the floor, a dream catcher hanging in the doorway. I would get hotel rooms for the kids and their respective significant others, and for my closest friends and relatives, should they choose to join us. A reliable house sitter would be at home, caring for my dogs, cats and horses. Friday would be spent leisurely visiting the pueblos, touring the old churches and the quaint shops filled with scented candles and silver and turquoise. Yes, that would be just the thing for Thanksgiving. It would be perfect.
Tonight my daughter baked brownies and carrot cake. In the morning, I’ll start my side dishes and marinate the beef tenderloin. I’ll roast beets for the salad, and cook bacon to go with the sautéed brussel sprouts that I’ll top with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. The turkey, cooked by Brett, will be tender and tasty. My family is all here, and my best friends are coming to dinner. I will set the table, worry about the china and silver and the wine, and end the day exhausted. And I will be very very thankful for all that I have. Santa Fe is a fantasy, but right here, right now is just fine.
But have I mentioned that I want to spend my sixtieth birthday, in thirteen months, December 2013, at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania? One can always dream…..