Today, I’m sharing a piece I wrote a number of years ago. This year, we’re all suffering about how – and how much -- to celebrate Thanksgiving. So many families will be isolated from one another; ours is no exception. And maybe times like this are precisely why we have so many holiday stories and memories; not to regret our current situation but to recount and relive those memories and traditions in our minds in the hope that we’ll be sharing time together – and creating new memories -- again in the future.
The following isn’t one of my Mom’s finest Thanksgiving moments, I’m sure, but I know she’ll enjoy the retelling of a memory we share from many years ago; a memory that we’ll likely never relive, but one that I share in the spirit of fun and the hope that we’ll all be able to trade stories and laugh again together soon.
I was five that Thanksgiving. Mom had been working since early morning, getting the turkey ready, boiling potatoes, making stuffing, preparing the table, all the things necessary to make this a special Haznaw holiday meal.
My siblings, all older and with friends and things to do, were in and out all day, helping where and when they were asked, which was rarely, since Mom had – and still has – her routine and doesn’t require or want assistance. Dad knew this, so he spent his day reading the paper, watching bits and pieces of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV (not because he liked it; more due to a lack of anything else to) and running a series of vague, unannounced "errands."
To Mom’s credit, she realized that our help would probably just slow her down anyway, so most times, she opted to put her shoulder to the wheel, power through, do it herself and, to use her words and dry wit, “Get this over with already.”
By late afternoon, everything was ready, save for a few finishing touches, and we were getting close to mealtime. In our family, we always ate our Thanksgiving meal around 5:00 p.m. (I found out later in my childhood that many – if not most – families eat their Thanksgiving meals earlier in the day, but that always seemed odd to me. The way we did it, according to my youthful, undeveloped brain, was always the “right way.”)
The room looked nice. Dad had retrieved the extra leaves for the table to give us more seating room. Additional chairs were brought up from the basement. We were using the “good” china and flatware, which was just that … good. It wasn’t fancy or expensive, but it was nice and more than enough by Haznaw standards. Even the salt and pepper shakers were nicer than usual.
Pies were out and cooling, and Mom was just about to pull the turkey from the oven.
I entered the kitchen to evaluate the situation and maybe steal a small chunk of food from a serving dish before it reached its final destination. My timing – according to Mom -- was perfect. She had a job for me, one of the only things she delegated all day. “Tell your dad the turkey is ready for carving.”
I understood her request, but for some reason, I didn’t immediately react. Maybe the message hadn’t quite finished downloading from my five-year-old brain to my five-year-old legs. Maybe the smell of all that food momentarily paralyzed me. Maybe I was captivated watching Mom, as she turned back to the oven, pulling out the roaster that held the magnificent bird, cooked to perfection. (I always wondered back then how my Mom knew how to do things like that, especially things she did only once or twice a year, like cooking a huge turkey with all the trimmings.)
Or maybe I knew – I felt -- something in my subconscious; something psychic. Whatever it was, it kept me there, in that kitchen, for just a few seconds before I went to call for Dad.
It was in that span of time, a crack smaller than one might find along the surface of a holiday pumpkin pie after it’s pulled from the oven, that I witnessed Thanksgiving history.
Mom had dropped the turkey into the wastebasket.
(Moment of silence to let that sink in.)
She looked at me, her eyes speaking volumes. I hadn’t moved a muscle, and I wasn’t about to now. In fact, I’m not sure I could have (I might have been in shock), but one thing I did know was that the message downloading from my brain to every fiber of my body at that moment was saying, “Keep your mouth shut, and don’t … don’t … DON’T laugh.”
In the next 10 seconds, no words were spoken as Mom quickly, calmly and efficiently “birthed” the turkey from the large wicker wastebasket as though she did it every day. And, as she placed it back into the roaster, it was patently obvious and silently understood that this situation was to be our secret and our secret only as Mom’s eyes did all the talking.
“Not a word," they said. Not … one … word.”
And I honored that secret (until today, anyway), out of respect for my mom, because I didn’t want her to be embarrassed but more importantly, because I was really hungry, so it didn’t matter to me that I would be eating trashcan turkey that day.
Had this scenario played out later in my youth, after I had learned the fine art of cracking wise, I surely would have had some commentary both in the kitchen immediately following the incident as well as moments later at the Thanksgiving table. But not this day. This was a day to respect the wishes of my mother, who asked for so little, and still does.
It was a beautiful holiday. We laughed and told stories and gorged ourselves on a tasty, perfectly prepared turkey dinner with all the fixins (and one unscheduled stop in the garbage). And no one was the wiser.
Here’s to happy and safe, healthy Thanksgiving, full of laughter, well-kept secrets and stories you can tell years down the road.
I will post a reading of this essay on Thursday to Facebook and my YouTube channel. And, thanks to Rose Haznaw, for always being a good sport, but more importantly, for everything you’ve done for all of us. That’s a secret I can’t keep to myself.
© 2020 David R. Haznaw