Thanksgiving approaches! Here in the United States, school children are taught early the story about the Pilgrims and Native Americans coming together to celebrate the harvest and give thanks. We celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November. Our neighbors in Canada have a Thanksgiving tradition that they celebrate on the second Monday in October and many other countries have similar harvest celebrations.
We all appreciate the being thankful aspect of the holiday and I surely enjoy the bountiful meal that comes along with it. But, for me, the opportunity to spend time with family is probably the most important part. Without that, Thanksgiving seems like just another day with a good dinner meal.
For many years, my wife worked for a large clothing store chain that didn’t close on Thanksgiving day. The only concession that they gave to the holiday was that they closed the stores early at 6:00 PM. We lived in South Carolina at the time and both of our children were still at home. Our tradition became that we cooked Thanksgiving dinner for Mom and it was ready for her when she got home from work.
Over the years, there were a few mishaps but, by and large, we handled the culinary duties just fine. Each year when Linda opened the door she was greeted with the pungent aromas of roasted turkey, sweet potato casserole topped with melted marshmallows, an assortment of vegetables, mashed potatoes and fresh baked pumpkin pie. As I look back on those days I realize that some of my best memories involve preparing those holiday meals with the kids.
Time passes and life changes. Eventually, Brian and Kristin graduated from college and moved out on their own. About the same time that Kristin left, I accepted a job in another state. Families often travel at holiday time but, when it came time for our first Thanksgiving in Indiana, it didn’t work out for either of the children to visit. Mom and Dad were going to have their first Thanksgiving alone and for the first time in eleven years, I wasn’t going to be the primary cook.
Beyond getting past the disappointment of not seeing the kids, Linda and I had to figure out how to downsize our typical Thanksgiving dinner. Most of that wasn’t difficult, but downsizing a turkey isn’t as easy as it sounds. We considered doing a chicken, but somehow that just didn’t seem to fit. Cornish hens were an option, one that we did try later on, but we weren’t ready to do that on our first solo holiday meal.
Finally I said, “Let’s just get a small turkey. If we have a lot left over then we’ll have hot turkey sandwiches for a few days.”
“That sounds like a plan,” Linda replied and the discussion was over.
A few days before Thanksgiving, I was rooting around in the freezer looking for something to eat. I had found an unopened container of fudge topping in the pantry and I was hoping to find some vanilla ice cream to go with it. While I was moving things around in my search, I stumbled upon a small football shaped package tucked neatly into the corner. On the label, it said “Butterball.” The only thing I knew that Butterball sold was turkeys, but this was much too small of a package to be a turkey.
Curious, I took it out and read the label more closely. It was a turkey but, at 5 ½ pounds, it was the smallest one I’d ever seen. Holding it in the palm of my hand I went to find Linda in the family room.
“What’s this?” I asked with a hint of disbelief in my voice.
She glanced up from her book, identified what I had in my hand and said, “It’s a turkey.”
“Isn’t this kind of small for a turkey,” I replied.
“It’s a ‘Baby Butterball’, that’s the size they are. Didn’t you want me to get a small turkey this year?”
“Well yeah, but I kind of assumed that you were going to get one that had hatched.”
Linda’s brows scrunched together, her eyes squinted, her mouth went taunt and her nostrils flared just a bit. This is the expression that the kids and I have come to know as “The Look.” Nothing good ever happens after she unleashes The Look, so I began to rapidly back pedal.
“No, no! It’s fine,” I said. “This is exactly the perfect size bird for the two of us.”
I should have stopped there, but male stupidity caused me to add, “Will you be firing up the oven to roast it or are you just going to pop it into the microwave for a bit?”
“I’m not going to do either one,” Linda answered. “You’ve had all the practice roasting turkeys lately; why don’t you handle that part of the meal?”
My survival instinct kicked in at that point, so I meekly nodded and returned to the kitchen where I put the turkey in the fridge to thaw. I was probably a little early with that; I think it was thawed in a couple of hours.
Thanksgiving came and, while Linda took care of everything else, I prepared the turkey. I’ve never tried to stuff a bird that small before. It only took about ½ cup of stuffing to fill the cavity and I had to poke it in with the handle of a wooden spoon. According to the chart, the Baby Butterball needed to cook for 2½ to 3 hours. That sounded like a long time for such a small bird, but that’s what I set the timer to as I popped it into the oven. Three hours later we sat down at the table for our meal.
“Well, aren’t you going to carve the turkey?” Linda asked after we said grace.
The carving knife I had was twelve inches long, a full two inches longer than the bird. I looked at the turkey then at the knife. After a brief pause, I took a deep breath, sliced the turkey in half and deposited one of the halves on Linda’s plate and one on mine. Again she gave me The Look.
This time, I simply shrugged my shoulders and said, “It seemed logical to me.”
On most Thanksgivings since then we’ve managed to either have the children at our home or gone to theirs. Even though we live closer now, it’s still challenging to get together because Linda has to be at work early in the morning on Black Friday. This year it’s even more so because the stores are opening up on Thursday night. Despite that, we’ll be having a nice dinner and giving thanks for everything this year has given us.
Linda got another small turkey this year, but I haven’t had the heart to look in the freezer yet. Mostly because I’m hoping that it’s a little bigger than that last small turkey. I felt just a little guilty putting the Baby Butterball in the roaster.