The story starts on Thanksgiving. Any Thanksgiving, it doesn’t matter. The family sits down – there are a lot of us, enough that we have to push the kitchen and dining room tables together – and the food gets set out. People take a few bites before it begins.
“I don’t even like turkey.”
It’s usually my grandmother who gets things going, but if not, she’s onboard immediately. This meal, this cake-eater, Thanksgiving meal, is too much work for something nobody likes anyway. Oh, sure, we love the stuffing and the sweet potatoes and the cranberry and the gravy (ok, who doesn’t like the gravy?), but the turkey? That thing’s a bitch. It takes forever to cook and you’re always afraid it’ll dry out before the inside’s done and then you have to carve the thing and then nobody even wants it. The griping goes on for a little bit before someone makes a suggestion.
“Why don’t we just cook the turkey breast next year?”
Agreement. Hearty agreement. That’ll give us the meat we need, it’ll still be Thanksgiving, but cooking it will be so much easier. Sometimes, for variety, the suggestion is that we do a chicken instead, but the point is the same: easier, simpler, and maybe people will even like it better. By the end of the night, it’s decided. Next year will be different.
This conversation’s been going for fifteen years.
I didn’t learn why until I took over the cooking of the bird. We had our pre-Thanksgiving pow-wow to decide what we were going to buy, and we – we being me, my mom and my grandmother – decided that we’d try out cooking just a turkey breast this year and see how that went. Lovely. Fantastic. No whole bird. We were actually doing it. I ordered this giant, organically grown local turkey breast that could feed the whole family, got my recipes together and prepared for the big day.
A week before Thanksgiving, I get a call from my mom. “Grandma bought a turkey,” she says.
“What? I already have a breast. It’s like a million pounds. Why do we need a turkey, too?”
“She wants something to stuff.”
Things descended quickly into a shouting match about who they thought was going to cook both a turkey and a breast, and anyway, why had I gone out and bought an expensive and gigantic turkey tit if we were just going to end up with a Butterball anyway? The shouting match continued through the week and on into Thanksgiving morning itself. A two-oven strategy was devised, where I would cook the breast and grandma would stuff the bird. Compromise.
Food gets laid out. Family starts to eat.
“I don’t even like turkey.”
Two years later, I gave up. My family had cyclical Thanksgiving psychosis and there’s no way I could cure it. I decided to opt out of the whole turkey process. Every year it was something new. A different last minute change, a slight variant on the argument. But it always ended the same, with a family who didn’t even want the thing. Rather than subject myself to the Groundhog Day-like horror of it all, I told my family to give me something else to cook and subject themselves to the turkey that they just couldn’t quit.
This was last year. The night before the big day, my mom calls, all desperate, because my grandmother has dumped off the turkey on them and they have no idea what to do with it. Could I please, please, please come help? The shouting the previous two years had nothing on the righteous Thanksgiving fury that followed. A full morning of rage, of my shouting while I grudgingly went about roasting that stupid, stupid bird. Why am I cooking this thing if everyone hates it? Why doesn’t one of the people who keeps forcing us to serve this bird at the last minute come over here and cook the damn thing themselves! I am so sick of this holiday! I’m going out of town next year, just you see!
Well, it’s Thanksgiving again, and here I am. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this holiday, it’s that there is no escape from it. On the phone with my mom last week, I had one request. “I don’t care what we cook or how we cook it. Just please decide everything now. If I wake up Thursday to another turkey surprise, I’m going to lose it.”
I shouldn’t have even bothered. After all, there are two certainties on Thanksgiving.
I’ll lose it.
And everyone will hate the turkey.