This particular time of year always brings around the spirit of my grandfather. Something about the leaves and chill in the air reminds me of him. How he carved the turkey with the electric knife he kept in the original cardboard box only taken out of the back of the bottom corner cabinet for this one time, this day, every year. The cardboard box, the 1960’s printing looking like new, was bound and covered with several layers of clear packing tape. In fact, it was taped so well that the box looked almost brand new when we cleaned out his house in 2000, after he passed on.
Grandma would get up at 3AM to bake the turkey. She was always an honest believer in 250 degrees until it was 175 degrees with the meat thermometer – after you basted it (smothered it) in Fleischmanns’ margarine. She called it Oleo. It usually took 6 boxes – 24 sticks of Fleischmanns’, left out unwrapped in a bowl on the counter overnight to soften, to give the turkey a nice waterproof barrier – that’s why she did it, she said – to keep the juices in. Grandma won a blue ribbon in the Maryland County Fair one year for her apple pie, so she was the cooking authority in my world.
The rest of us would watch the parades on the tv in the living room – Central Time Zone was great because we got the live feed from the East Coast just an hour earlier – so we’d get there just as the Macy’s pre-show was starting. When the turkey achieved the proper temperature, it was set on top of the washing machine on the back porch on a rack to cool. In Coastal Mississippi on this holiday, the temperature ranges from 40 to 60 degrees F, so it cools quickly and evenly. After Granddaddy finished the noon Amateur Radio net, he’d assemble his tools and the turkey on the kitchen island table and he’d start carving. Every year, his carving was more and more precise and artful – almost turkey topiary a few times.
In his later years, he got what he called “The Shakes” – it ran in the family, he said, all the men had it, and some of the ladies…but it was the Family Shakes. He just adapted. After all, his whole life had been adapting – he was born in 1908 – and this was in the 1980’s. The electric knife remained the prefered carving tool. He found that with the blade on low, the sawing motion worked with his Shakes and make the blade more stable. He taught me how to sharpen the blades on a grindstone in the shed – and it worked well. He never had to give up carving the turkey until he was ready to. The legs were cut from the thighs and set aside – one for me and one for my brother, until I had another brother. Grandma started buying extra turkey legs and cooking them along side the turkey – so all the kids could have a turkey leg. We were required to hold them up by the ankle end, making sure to gesture and wave about the meaty end – and someone would always declare himself Henry the Eighth, to which we’d have to sing a chorus of it. Many apologies to Mr. Herman and all the Hermits – but it was tradition in our house.
Grandma’s health declined and Granddaddy started ordering the turkey dinner from the grocery store – fully cooked. She was waiting at the door when he got home with it, too – quick to start dumping things into her own pans and dishes – The turkey always needed just a few more minutes in the oven and the gravy always got tossed. Only her gravy was allowed – even though we all knew her special recipe came from a McCormick packet just like the stuffing – she didn’t hide those red and yellow cardboard boxes too well. The mashed potatoes always needed “some extra” too – whatever the extra was – probably MSG. She always had a BIG jar of MSG in the spice rack, and she put that stuff on everything. It wasn’t until after her death that all the bad stuff about it came out in the news – Thanks – you don’t know how many times I licked that salty sweet carcinogen off my palm while no one was looking.
We’d sit down around the dining room table, and take turns serving our plates from the kitchen. We’d go around the table and say something we were thankful for – Granddaddy would usually say he was grateful he wasn’t in the Obituary Column of the local newspaper that morning.
Tomorrow – More Turkey day memories. My first one on my own – kinda – or – Very Late Wednesday night before Turkey day at the Piggly Wiggly in a small college town that is deserted for the week with my schizophrenic alcoholic but harmless and well meaning codependent narcissistic mother.