My mother was fretting about the turkey. I had volunteered to help with the turkey, therefore I was fretting by association. I was aiding and abetting in the fretting.
The fret source was the fact that it was two days before Christmas and we had a 20-pound turkey to thaw. That’s a big bird and yet appropriate given that there would be eight meat eaters for Christmas dinner, with the rule of thumb for turkey being “one pound per person, two pounds for the Baby Jesus and 10 extra pounds just to appall the vegans.” A turkey this size would normally take a fortnight to thaw in the fridge. We didn’t have a fortnight. We didn’t even know what a fortnight was, but we weren’t going to let fancy turkey-roasting lingo stop us.
“If we put it in a cooler and keep changing the water, it should be thawed in time,” said Mom.
“It’s not going to take two days if you’re using water,” I corrected. “Just stick it in the fridge overnight to let it thaw a bit more and we’ll work on it tomorrow.”
“I don’t know, that’s a big turkey,” she said.
“But you don’t want it to thaw too soon,” I said.
And so on. It was a case of the irresistable force meeting the unthawable object. In the end we did what most families do: disagreed to agree. We water-thawed the turkey for a few hours that evening, then stuck it in the fridge overnight for final thawing Christmas eve. It was a win-whine situation.
Adding to the complexity was the fact that there was a small hole in the turkey’s plastic wrapping.
“You’ve got to cover the hole so the water doesn’t get in,” said my mother. “You don’t want contamination.”
“It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine,” I said.
“We shouldn’t take the chance,” she said. “What if we put it in a plastic bag?”
“The water’s still going to get in,” I said. “Water always finds a way.”
And I was right. The bag was a leaky failure. (Don’t you love it when you’re right, especially when it’s your mother?) But that still left us with the hole.
Long turkey story short: Saran Wrap and duct tape. And the cooler wouldn’t fit under the bathtub tap, so much of the day Christmas Eve was spent thawing a duct-taped turkey by filling and refilling a cooler under the bathtub shower. Not exactly a Christmas tradition I hanker for (“chestnuts roasting by the open fire, dead bird thawing in the tub”). On the plus side, the shower’s massage setting did thaw and simultaneously tenderize the meat.
There were subsequent turkey-related skirmishes: temperature and time tension; lack of clarity on the merits of resting the turkey on a bed of vegetables instead of a rack (“It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine!”); the great oil-the-skin debate. Late in the roasting, when we couldn’t find the baster and needed to drain the rising tide of juices, I sloshed a wave onto the bottom of the oven.
“Oh, we’ll have to get that or it’ll catch fire,” Mom said.
“The oven’s too hot to clean it now. It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine!”
It wasn’t fine. While it didn’t catch fire, it did turn black, fill the house with haze and set off the smoke detectors. Yeah, we really should have cleaned up that juice somehow. (Don’t you hate it when you’re wrong, especially when it’s your mother?)
But I kept coming back to that duct-taped turkey in the tub. As the media began reviewing the highlights of 2012, it seemed an apt symbol of our times: big and ungainly, potentially deadly, jerry-rigged and leaky, a source of anxiety and dispute, even with one’s saintly mother who (one must all remember) is always, always right. As is often the case with life, when it comes to turkey, you have to wonder whether it’s really worth it.
Well, yeah! Of course it’s worth it. It’s freakin’ turkey! Turkey is the best!
As our family sat around the Christmas table, eating the meal that we had all cobbled and squabbled together, so delicious and bountiful, that duct-taped turkey became a tasty symbol of all we can accomplish in this life, all the blessings and privileges we have in this confusing, hazy world, a white-and-dark-meat symbol of family and achievement and full bellies. Life is a turkey, man! Like Jimmy Stewart said, it’s a wonderful slice.