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  • Writer's pictureJeff Kerr

I Don't Smell Turkey!

Every family’s Thanksgiving meal is different. Some prefer homemade cranberry sauce while others insist on the canned cylindrical glob with ridges. You might like mashing the whole potato, skins and all, while your neighbor wants them silky smooth and skin-free. Do you make cornbread dressing or the kind with little cubes of stale white bread? Is your gravy chunky? Pumpkin or sweet potato pie?

Despite the variations, there is one constant we all agree on: a Thanksgiving meal includes a turkey. Except for my sister’s friend, who once invited my sister and her family over for the holiday and served lasagna. And it wasn’t even turkey lasagna.

When I was a kid, I believed that the Thanksgiving menu was carved in stone, never to be varied from. Mom served roast turkey, gravy (sans giblets), skinless mashed potatoes, canned cranberry sauce, canned string beans, frozen peas with little round onions mixed in, white bread dressing, and one of those Jello salad monstrosities that were all the rage in the sixties. One year our neighbors up the street hosted us for the meal. This was my introduction to giblet gravy and cornbread dressing, both of which I viewed as unfit for a dog. I have since grown to prefer cornbread dressing, but still leave the giblets out of the gravy, a move favored by our grateful pup.

Then there’s the Thanksgiving that we almost skipped the turkey. We all gathered at my parents’ house, me, my girlfriend (now wife), brother, sister, and brother-in-law. As usual, Mom was up early to prepare everything, it never occurring to any of the rest of us to offer to help. In my defense, this was 40 years ago, when Moms cooked the meal, and the guys went outside to play basketball. These days I am in the middle of the kitchen action, cooking pies, making applesauce, and telling all who ask that no, it isn’t ready yet.

Anyway, Mom was slaving away in the kitchen all day while we watched football, played driveway basketball, and nagged her about being hungry. Several times my brother-in-law wandered through the kitchen and commented, “I don’t smell turkey.” Each time, Mom reassured him that the bird had been in the oven for hours.

Around six o’clock, after my brother-in-law issued another olfactory report, Mom decided maybe she should check the turkey. She opened the oven and gasped. There it sat, as pink and uncooked as it had been when she slipped it into the oven hours ago. Everything else was ready. Except for the gravy, which requires turkey juice produced in the baking process.

We held a family debate about the best way to address this fiasco. Should we eat the side dishes now and forgo the turkey? But then there would be no gravy for the dressing and mashed potatoes. Should we wait for the bird to cook? Dang, we were really looking forward to a piece of pie right about now.

In the end, we opted to wait. Mom turned on the oven, we resumed our basketball game, and my brother-in-law’s nose started giving favorable updates. Stomachs rumbling, we finally sat down to eat around 10 pm. Let me tell you, the pie that year tasted awfully good.

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