Thanksgiving is an important holiday in our household. So important, we celebrate twice a year. Yes. Twice! So important, that when we built our house, we ordered double ovens just for Thanksgiving. But it wasn’t always like that. Years ago, my family used to go to my aunt and uncles’ house in Fairfield, CT. At the time, my uncle was a wealthy car dealer. We used to say we were going to the “big house.” We were treated like second-class citizens because we were the poorer relatives. My aunt would boast about her latest golf trophy and my uncle would bluster about, telling us how much money he was making. Back in the day, a Chevrolet dealership was a license to coin money. You had to be pretty stupid to screw one up. My uncle though, eventually managed to run it into the ground. I didn’t feel too sorry for him because I had once bought a used car from him and the clutch went after three days. He wouldn’t fix it.
Anyway, the whole family would get together, and we would pretend we were having a good time. My auntie was a good cook, or I should say her cook was a good cook. The meal was the normal overabundance of food and drink. The table groaned with a huge turkey, stuffing, side dishes and desserts. All homemade mind you. Afterwards, we would repair to the den and watch football.
After dessert, my mother who hated my aunt, still does, would give my father the high sign. Gotta go! We would all lie and say what a good time we had and can’t wait to see you again. We would hop into our piece of junk of a car and ride home. What a relief.
After the downfall of my uncle, we needed a place to have Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, no one in my family would step up to the plate. We therefore began to celebrate Thanksgiving in restaurants! I don’t know anything more depressing than spending Thanksgiving in a restaurant. Overcooked, desiccated turkey, served with pasty potatoes, dried out stuffing, canned cranberry sauce drenched in salty, gloppy, gravy. Yum! All served by a sullen wait staff that looks as if they would prefer sticking themselves with sharp objects than waiting on you. What a great time. We did this for a few years, each Thanksgiving being more miserable than the one before.
About two months before my wife became my wife, she said under no circumstances was she spending Thanksgiving in a restaurant. Well, that left only a few people ready, willing and able to make Thanksgiving. My mother hates to cook, my sister-in-law is incapable of cooking, so that left us. How hard can Thanksgiving be? Back then, well it was touch and go. We had the year that we ran out of food. Well, we didn’t really, but Howie, my sister-in-law’s brother-in-law pretty much piled his plate with enough turkey for eight and then proceeded to eat it. My wife and I had to literally pick stuff off the carcass to eat. Then we had the year when Howie, again, stole the hakaka. The what? My wife is not sure if the word is a real or made up word, but her mother named this particular piece of turkey anatomy. The hakaka is the best part of the bird. Our family literally fights over this part. The hakaka, is the part of the tail end of the bird that covers the stuffing. During roasting, the skin, meat and stuffing all fuse into a piece of crispy, crunchy goodness. Usually, we cut it off first, and then pick at it. Howie, stole the entire hakaka and ate it all by himself. No wonder he suffered a heart attack later that year. Then we had the year that we decided to get a fresh turkey. When we opened the plastic wrap, we found the turkey had turned rancid. That was fun. We had to go to the store, get a frozen one, plunge it in warm water until it thawed. Dinner was delayed a while that year.
Now, we have Thanksgiving down to a science. We make our cornbread, pies, and ice cream from scratch. Our secret for cooking the bird is to smear it with spicy mustard and roast it at 325 degrees for about 22 minutes per pound. We usually get at least a 22 pound bird, so we start early in the morning. Hours of preparation go into this meal. Planning, shopping trips, cutting, dicing, and cooking. It’s over in twenty minutes. Then the kids go and watch the game and in another twenty minutes, they all snoring soundly.
So, how did we come up with Thanksgiving in July? When our older son was dating his wife, she would only go to Thanksgiving at her parent’s house. Reasonable enough. He raved about how good the food was, how much fun we had, what comfortable couches we had to fall asleep on after the meal. She was almost convinced. Then my wife had a brainstorm; let’s celebrate Thanksgiving in, you guessed it July. So we planned everything and went shopping to buy all of the necessary accoutrements. Everything except the turkey. Try and find a 20 plus pound turkey in the summer. Try real hard. It’s not there. D. B. Cooper is easier to find. We scoured the grocery stores searching in vain for a turkey during a heat wave. Stop and Shop had two fresh turkeys. We grabbed the biggest one and ran to the checkout. Whew. We were a little hesitant given our history with fresh turkeys. But the turkey came out fine and a new tradition was born. We now buy two turkeys at Thanksgiving. One get eaten right away, the other goes into our freezer.
Thanksgiving in July has become a permanent part of the Scott household. It has its own traditions such as drinking mass quantities of beer, a blow-up pool that only gets put up for three days, endless rounds of horseshoes and cornhole, plus the usual insults, teases, name-calling, put downs and other sundry ways of saying I love you. You have to be pretty thick-skinned to survive in the Scott household. Curiously enough, my kids won’t let us share TIJ with anyone unless they vet them. Adults, sadly, are not welcome. We would probably not be invited, except that we MAKE the dinner. My normally placid home gets turned into a frat house for three days.
As with all good things, it comes and goes too quickly. My kids slowly depart and we are left with an empty house. But we do not despair. Real Thanksgiving is just around the corner.