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The Thanksgiving I will always remember
We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Europe where I grew up, so my very first Thanksgiving dinner in the US could have been a total disaster. We invited friends, and Uncle Joe and Aunt Alice from California had invited themselves because they couldn’t attend our June wedding. Uncle Joe called and simply informed us that they’d be arriving the day before Thanksgiving and staying with us for five days.
I was petrified because I never cooked a holiday dinner, and my husband having been single for so many years, either. So, I asked my neighbor for advice and recipes. Everything seemed to be going fine. The day before Thanksgiving, while hubby drove to the airport, I baked pumpkin and sweet potato pies, cooked cranberry sauce, and the turkey was half-thawed in the fridge.
When our guest arrived, Uncle Joe warned us about Aunt Alice’s declining mental status due to Alzheimer’s. She seemed lucid when Uncle Joe was in the room and her long-term memory still functioned, but her short-term memory had been greatly affected. When she couldn’t see Joe, Alice became nervous and agitated and asked where he was every two minutes.
On the morning of Thanksgiving, I decorated the dining room, set the dinner table, and did some last-minute cleaning, and then taking a deep breath, I armed myself with the recipes and started peeling the vegetables and preparing the turkey.
Aunt Alice wandered around the apartment, touching, and rearranging everything. She fluffed the throw pillows, straightened the pictures on the mantel and the walls, and constantly asked whose house it was and how did they get there. Uncle Joe, with a patience of a saint, answered the same question every three minutes. After awhile, Alice seemed to be tiring and became agitated. “Alice, why don’t you help Erika in the kitchen?” Joe said to her.
Great! I thought. It’s not enough that I’m nervous about messing up dinner, now I’ll have to watch the old lady too. But I forced a smile, poured a cup of coffee, and invited her to sit by the kitchen table. Alice started chatting about her childhood and the time when she got married, and I caught myself enjoying her stories while I prepared the vegetables, assembled the green bean casserole, and peeled the potatoes for cooking and meshing.
Then I took the turkey out of the fridge, mixed the softened butter with spices, and started stuffing it under the skin of the turkey.
“Why aren’t you mixing the stuffing first?” Alice asked, surprising me because I was sure that she was so absorbed in her memories that she didn’t pay attention, or even comprehend what I was doing.
“I have the recipe, but I didn’t mix it because the bird came with the stuffing,” I replied. “It’s all wrapped up inside the turkey.”
Uncle Joe overhearing our conversation, rushed from the living room. “Did you just say the turkey came with the stuffing?” he asked.
“Yes, it’s wrapped in brown paper, and it’s inside the bird,” I replied, now feeling confused.
“That package contains the gizzards, you silly goose! Take them out of the paper and bake them with the bird.”
“Oh, my God! I thought it was the premade stuffing!” I mumbled, feeling embarrassed.
“I guess Alice just saved the day,” he said, smiling lovingly at his wife for fifty years with tears in his eyes. He wiped his eyes, kissed her forehead, and turned back to me. “Let’s make that stuffing and I’ll show you how Alice always baked it separately in the muffin pan. She hated it when the stuffing got mushy inside the turkey.”
We seasoned the turkey, stuffed the vegetables and gizzards inside the bird, and put it in the oven. When the rest of the guests arrived and dinner was served, everyone complimented the stuffing muffins.
After the delicious dinner, everyone relaxed in the living room, and when Alice followed me to the kitchen, I hugged her and thanked her for saving me from the embarrassment of serving the turkey with the brown paper package baked inside it.
She pushed me away and with a worried expression she asked, “Where is Joe? Joe, where are you?” She shouted.
“I’m here, sweetheart,” came Joe’s calming voice from the living room. Alice’s face lit up with a smile and shuffled to meet her beloved husband.
© Erika M Szabo
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