Thanksgiving always marked a feeding frenzy at my house. There are families who celebrate Thanksgiving as an opportunity to spend quality time together, hiking through magnificent fall foliage or playing football. My family wasn’t that kind of family. Thanksgiving was all about the bird and the fixings that accompanied the bird. We scoffed at the hikers and football players. Who could hike on a full belly?
Every year my dad would pull out an enormous bird the size of an ostrich from the oven, shaking his head apologetically, saying,” they only had sparrows available, I hope there will be enough.” My dad also makes amazing stuffing, the base of it, as with all of his cooking, being bacon. His famous giblet gravy was perfection on the creamy smooth mashed potatoes my mom would make with her secret ingredients of cream cheese, sour cream and huge pads of butter. As we feasted I would be discretely unbuttoning my pants, already dreaming of leftover turkey sandwiches piled high with layers of stuffing and cranberry sauce. Later that night we would pull tasty bits away from the carcass, as my mother would exclaim, as she did every year, that the meat closest to the bones is the best part.
My family loves meat. I was raised on meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A meal wasn’t complete unless something died to feed us. Vegetables were window dressing, a token and inferior accompaniment to the real deal. My Dad can rhapsodize for hours about prime cuts of meat, marinating and grilling. When my sister and I discussed what characteristics were essential in a potential mate, the deal breaker for her was a vegetarian. “I just don’t think I could handle it,” she said seriously. When The Sweetie was going to meet my parents for the first time my only advice was to eat the meat. “You will eat more meat than you’ve ever eaten in your life but eat it all. Rave about it and don’t stop eating even if you think you are going to be sick. Get it down and they will love you forever.” He was stoic and ate a barbecued steak that filled the entire dinner plate, a small baked potato dangling precariously on the side for show. My mother was so impressed that she gave him half of her steak to eat as well.
Over a decade ago I gave up eating meat. My parents have yet to accept this and have barely forgiven me. They saw it as a personal affront, a mean spirited way to hurt them.
“Where did we go wrong?” my mother lamented. “Why are you doing this to us?”
“I just don’t want to eat anything cute anymore,” I declared.
“Chickens aren’t cute!” they cried. “And turkeys are downright ugly!”
I consider turkeys to be in the category of ugly-cute. That hanging bit of flesh at their necks and their beady little eyes make them endearing. Their strut and ridiculous gobble breaks my heart a little, kind of like seeing an old woman tottering in a pair of high heels. I just couldn’t eat them anymore, regardless of how delicious they were with all the fixings.
“What about soup?” my sister asked, “Are you still able to eat turkey broth? That’s just the bones.”
“What do you expect to eat for Thanksgiving then?” My father asked quietly, unable to look at me.
“I don’t like squash!” my mother yelled to no one in particular.
“Well you guys can still do the whole turkey thing and I can stuff myself on the side dishes,” forgetting for a moment that bacon is the secret ingredient in most of my parents side dishes. “I can cook stuff and we can expand our horizons.”
My father didn’t say anything, glaring into space.
“It’ll be fun! I can make a pumpkin soup and all kind of harvest-y stuff and you can still have the turkey.”
“What’s the point,” my mom said sadly,“there’s no point in making a turkey for just a few people.”
“I’ll be damned if I’ll touch a Tofurkey.” My sister sneered.
“Well you could buy a small turkey.” I suggested.
“Or you’ll just have extra tasty leftovers. That’s always fun.”
My Dad had already left the room. Somewhere I heard a door slam.
Shortly thereafter, my sister moved to the United States, married a meat eating American and now gets to witness the presidential turkey pardon while roasting a turkey for her own family. Until recently I wasn’t even aware of the presidential turkey pardon. There isn’t a Canadian version with the Prime Minister pardoning a feathered northern fowl. Does the American turkey know it will be pardoned or is it waiting with bated breath until the last moment, wondering if it is getting the axe or not? Does the turkey suffer from survivor’s guilt? Are there a bunch of death row inmates waiting for a pardon wondering how different their lives would have been if they were a turkey instead?
My parents no longer roast a turkey for Thanksgiving. Every year there are wistful reminisces of the family bonding we used to share. Now there is a tragic chasm, a void that cannot be filled. ‘Will you ever come back to our side?” my mother will ask longingly. One year my Dad made a Thanksgiving goose stuffed with apples since it was smaller than a turkey. “At least it won’t all go to waste. If it was a turkey we’d just have to throw half of it out since you’ve chosen birds over your own family,” he grumbled as he unceremoniously dumped a couple of Captain Highliner fish sticks in front of me. My mother waxed nostalgic about the carcass picking days and the tasty leftovers. The cauliflower gratin I had brought sat untouched. I sat with my fish sticks and bare mashed potatoes and pretended that I was the president of a small obscure country and had just spared a turkey. Surely there must be a bird out there that appreciates the sacrifice I have made. My family may never forgive me but I hope that there is a turkey gobbling somewhere in a moment of thanks.