The night before Thanksgiving my phone broke the rhythm of the stereo by ringing out of tune at eight o’clock in the evening. The call was for me which in and of itself was unusual, but even more unusual was it was my Dad calling. Dad now lived alone in the big house we grew up in, my four brother and two sisters all having moved out starting our own families and seldom made the effort to call. Mom had passed away just last January and my Pops was a bit lost and confused. On top of coping without his soul partner and the foundation of our family this was the first thanksgiving for us without Mom. Dad wanted everything to be like a normal holiday gathering of the family so he had invited me and my family, two of my brothers and two sisters and their families over for the big dinner. We all agreed it would be the best thing for him and we all accepted, but his phone call had a somewhat ominous tone about at. “Hey kiddo, I know your coming over for thanksgiving dinner tomorrow but I was wondering if you could come over early and sort of help me get dinner together. Its our first dinner since your Moms gone and to be honest I have no idea how she did it or what to do.” I really should have known this would happen, me being a chef and Dad now on a strict diet of microwaveable dinners and can cuisine. “Of course Pops, how big is the bird?” I needed to know what I was up against, “I got a thirty pounder for everyone, it barely fit in the freezer.” He sounded proud but I was still unsure of what he meant exactly by ’help’. More like ’can you come over and make thanksgiving dinner?’ which was cool, I sure knew my way around a kitchen “Okay pops, you have it in the sink of the fridge?” The silence should have alerted me but back in those days I was slower to catch on due to my indulgence of herbal accoutrements if you catch my drift. “Well, ah, no son, its still in the freezer. Is that a problem?” Problem? Oh no, raw frozen turkey is how everybody does it! This time it was my turn to create an uncomfortable silence while I weighed options. Think hard buddy, what to do? “Okay listen Dad, put the turkey in the sink right now, leave it there overnight and I’ll be over first thing in the morning.” Looks like no “March of The Wooden Soldiers” for me this year.
I got up extra early because I was expecting other disasters to appear not knowing what my father had in store for me. Within minutes of being there I was not disappointed as the first disaster reared its ugly turkey neck. Still ¾ frozen I began running water over the cryo-packed turkey and turned to my father. The look on his face could best be described as a combo of bewilderment and confusion, “Okay, what else do we have for dinner Pops?” Mr. Bewildered looked at me sheepishly and by way of firm reply said, “Well, I have a bag of frozen onions and a box of frozen baked stuffed potatoes……Can you use that?” I thought about saying in my typically sarcastic tone, “Oh perfect old man, the fourteen of us can share two potatoes while we dine on Butterball popsickles” but a wave of sadness fell across me. Here was my old man, a dude who never spent a day behind the stove, a man whose cooking talents are limited to a few things on the grill in summer, this lonely man just wants to have his family over for Thanksgiving like we did when his wife, our Mom, was alive. To top it off, he was depending on me, probably his most undependable child. The veritable black sheep of the family, the one who Mom complained always “Danced to the beat of your own drum” the rebellious name ruining prodigal son was being asked to save the family celebration.
“Say Pops, why don’t you go clean up the living room and dining room or something and I’ll take care of dinner. I’ll call Jake (not the State farm guy, my next oldest brother) and together he and I will create a Thanksgiving dinner Mom would be proud of.” I know he’ll never admit this but he turned away quickly so I wouldn’t see the tear of part pride for his son and part profound sadness from missing his lifer partner. No sooner did he leave the kitchen I opened the window, lit a joint, and called Jake. “Jake, buddy, you gotta come over here quick man, we got to shop and cook the turkey dinner for tonight.” I could tell the silence was a quick option weighing silence combined with a how can I get out of this silence so I sweetened the pot. Literally. “Look dude, I got some primo gold weed here, we’ll puff a few on the way to the store then some more once we start cooking.” Successful arm twisting worked and he was on his way over.
Now I am a trained chef, and I know it goes against common protocol, but I added more hot to the running water, and took the bird out of the wrapper and set it up so the water ran directly into the cavity. Jake honked his horn and I jumped in his car and lit another joint. By the time we got to the grocery store we were laughing like friggen banshees. We tore through the store and filled our cart up with red bliss potatoes, fresh asparagus, corn, carrots, and broccoli, sweet potatoes, stuffing mix, and all the accoutrements needed for a good chef created T day dinner. Also in our cart was a box of ring dings, oreo cookies, devil dogs, and chips and dip, proving once again the theory that one should never shop for food after smoking pot. But, Hell, what’s done is done, so we paid and split.
By the time we got back to Dads, the turkey was close enough to at least remove the gizzards and neck and season the bird. A bunch of veggie trimmings in a roaster and first things first the turkey went in the oven. So we did the most natural thing. We lit another joint and smoked it blowing the smoke out the window. Just like old times when we both lived under their roof blowing it out the window while burning incense as a cover. The next few hours Jake and I had a blast, puffing joints, cooking together, and laughing our asses off. Well not completely off, more like halfway off.
By three in the afternoon Dad finally peeked his head in the kitchen to see where we were. “Should I set the table like Mom used to do, so we can have our Thanksgiving dinner just they way she made it?” I thought for a moment, then replied, “No Dad, the truth is no one will ever be able to make dinner the way Mom did, no one could come close. So how about this, a new tradition. I’m gonna make this a Thanksgiving buffet, put all the food on the dinner table and we can all make our plates and eat in the living room. I could never compete with how much Mom put into dinner.” The tear returned, this time he didn’t hide it but wiped it away, “I love you guys so much, this is gonna be the best Thanksgiving possible.” He left, Jake and I looked at each other and the teardrop must have been infectious because we had each developed one too.
When the time came I set a carving station up for Dad, with turkey, vermouth gravy, and pumpernickel artichoke stuffing, then arranged everything else around the table. Traditional sweet potatoes, red bliss mashed potatoes with four cheese, steamed broccoli and asparagus with hollandaise sauce, caramelized pearl onion, green beans almandine, fresh corn shaved off the cob and tossed in buerre noir, and baby carrots braised in maple syrup. And I’ll tell you this, the Thanksgiving dinners my Mom made were jam packed with love and hard work and each of us always appreciated what she accomplished, ans I couldn’t have done it on my own the way she always had, and it certainly did not have come close to what Mom would have made, but it was one tasty damn meal and there was all the love at the house we all needed.