Sad Speculative Holiday

Last year Mom wanted to change things up for Thanksgiving by cooking a prime rib rather than turkey. It seemed odd, and I remember complaining to Don, my husband, about this strange change in the menu. It felt as though turkey was a non-negotiable part of dinner because Thanksgiving was a source of turkey frustration for both my parents as far back as I can remember.

Most years, we went to Grandma and Grandpa Twardowski's house for Thanksgiving dinner. Dad's job was turkey carver, but carving the turkey at our Thanksgiving wasn't the picture-perfect dinner you see on tv. Most of us had been there since the early morning, helping prepare dinner. Nescos, crockpots, the oven, and stovetop – food was everywhere. If you didn't jump in and make your plate, you'd miss out on some of the tastiest bits of dinner. The table usually also overflowed with food so seating consisted of wherever you could claim a spot.

Dad's frustration bloomed because once the turkey came out of the oven, we were ready to eat, while he insisted that the turkey had to "rest." Our impatience would push him to carve it too soon, burning his hands and inciting many cuss words. Many of us stood over his shoulder, snatching up every slice of turkey before he could even get it to a serving tray.

             Dad's solution to combat the "vultures" was to invite everyone to dinner at our house. We packed the friends and family of the Twardowski clan into our tiny house, but after a couple of years, he realized that was not a solution. Our kitchen was too small, and the turkey impatience still existed. When we transitioned back to going to dinner down the hill, I don't know if Dad realized that our "vulturing" was a compliment. We loved the turkey so much that we couldn't wait to get into it.

             After Dad passed away, Mom took over the torch for Thanksgiving frustration. Grandma taught Mom how to make the stuffing many years ago, and then Mom's job from there on out was stuffing maker. Mom complained about how countless times she'd plan for a specific time for the turkey to be done and then the plan would inevitably change due to many factors – it's a big family. Some years the turkey would be done too early, but most of the time, the turkey was in the oven, still hours from being done when the dinner bell rang. Everyone would complain that the turkey wasn't done, ultimately eating everything else while Mom waited on the turkey. She'd try to pull the stuffing out when it was still lava hot when the "vultures" descended.

             In the later years, the turkey lost its place in the oven, and Mom's stuffing went into a turkey that would be cooked in a Nesco. Using the Nesco, a large crockpot, meant the usual bacon Mom liked to put on top of the turkey that got extra crispy and delicious in the oven wouldn't be needed. It also meant the turkey skin never got crispy, but Grandma’s famous rolls needed the oven space. My mouth waters at the thought of those warm buttery rolls fresh out of the oven. Mom wholeheartedly agreed they were delicious, but the turkey and stuffing belonged in the oven too.

             I wasn't home every Thanksgiving either, which, though she wouldn't admit it, also frustrated her. She would tell me all the stories of Thanksgiving; I'm wondering if I remember them correctly. It always strikes me as funny how we all remember things so differently. I remember Thanksgivings that I went to as a great time, catching up with family and friends I hadn't seen all year. I remember the food was delicious and plentiful. Yet, Mom said there was even one Thanksgiving when she got so angry she stormed out and went home. For her to be that angry, a woman who once told me confrontation made her nauseous, meant she was furious.

             When she moved to Alabama to live close to me, we knew the boss of Thanksgiving would be Mom. Mom would be in charge of the stuffing and the turkey prep, and then we'd take care of the rest. I expected she would tell me, "Thank you. It's just what I wanted, a perfect Thanksgiving." I was wrong; turkey frustration still reigned.

              Last year she suggested we make prime rib for Thanksgiving, and we were puzzled why she wanted prime rib after all the turkey frustration. Ever since she moved to Alabama, I made sure she had complete control over how the turkey was prepared thinking that could relieve her of her turkey frustration.

             When we talked about Thanksgiving this year, Mom worried because my work schedule had the possibility of hampering the holiday. She suggested we skip it this year, but I promised her I wouldn't have to work on Thanksgiving. Her worry meter was pegged high though, and I didn't understand. I was trying to make sure it was the way she wanted; I didn't want her to be frustrated or worried. Then she dropped the bomb on me.

She admitted she suggested prime rib last year because I always pulled the turkey out too soon. However, she insisted that the thighs, her favorite part, weren't fully cooked. I felt flabbergasted; I always used a thermometer to check the turkey's temperature and pulled it when it was 165 degrees. Then, I let it rest and swore up and down that it was cooked perfectly, thighs and all.

Then, I made a new promise that I would cook it as long as she wanted. I mean, she was in charge after all, wasn't she? Little did I realize that I never gave up complete control because I let myself get wrapped up in making sure Mom had a perfect Thanksgiving.

Holidays are a source of frustration for most of us. There might be a guest who always gets too drunk, makes inappropriate jokes, or insists on talking about politics. Maybe your guests are impatient for you to get the food to the table, or you aren't able to cook your favorite dish the way you want. You might even have someone who claims you are 100% in charge yet still takes over and presents you with an inedible dish all because she refused to listen to your advice. 

Today is the first Thanksgiving since we lost Mom, and I’d give anything to spend another day, another hour, a minute, or even one second with my parents. I suspect Mom's frustration at every Thanksgiving had nothing to do with Thanksgiving. She loved all of us more than anything in the world. Dad felt the same. I think their turkey frustration came from them wanting everything to be perfect. They, like so many, showed their love through food.

Food is a love language. When Dad felt angry at the "vultures," he wanted to present a perfectly carved turkey on a beautiful platter because that's how he said, "I did this for you all because I love you." Mom wanted the turkey cooked perfectly for the same reason. Grandma made those rolls on Thanksgiving day for the same reason. I attempted to cook a perfect turkey to show my family how much I love them. I think the menu change was because Mom felt slighted when I undercooked her favorite part. She didn't want to hurt my feelings because she knew how much I wanted it to be perfect. And for someone whose love language is food, when we gush and ooh and ah over something they cook for us, we are telling them, "Thank you. It's just what I wanted. I love you too."

November 24, 2022 18:08

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Wendy Kaminski
00:22 Nov 29, 2022

What a great way of looking at otherwise upsetting situations -- and so true! Lovely, Theresa. :)


01:03 Nov 29, 2022

Thanks so much!


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