My husband is our Thanksgiving chef and the family that gathers to enjoy his meal now numbers in the mid-20s. When our oven could no longer hold a turkey large enough to feed everyone, he started buying two turkeys and cooking one outdoors.
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This allows him to strut his stuff. One turkey is conventional; the second is smoked. My husband looks as big and proud as a stately bird as he passes his trays of perfectly cooked light and dark meat, conventional and smoked.
The crowd loves it. Applause erupts. Thanksgiving at our house is always tasty, tumultuous and fun.
Last year our 26-year-old son, who lives in Minneapolis, arrived on Wednesday while my husband was working out of town. It fell to my son and me, therefore, to pick up the twin turkeys I had reserved at the Davis Food Co-op and bring them home, where our refrigerator was already packed with with beverages, vegetables and ingredients for gravy and pie.
“Let’s put one at Nancy’s house,” I said. My neighbor was on vacation and I had the key. I knew she wouldn’t mind a temporary bird in her refrigerator.
I carried it over and locked it in.
“Dad is going to ask where the second turkey is,” my son said.
I responded, without a moment of thought, “Let’s play a trick on him.”
Should I tell him the second turkey flew away? Too silly.
Should I tell him I forgot the second turkey? He’d never believe it.
My son came up with the winning line. “Tell him they ran out,” he suggested.
I practiced saying, “Oh, they ran out,” and “Sorry, they ran out” with just the right mix of sadness and optimism to sound real. I should sound sad because Bob loves the Food Coop turkey and optimistic because we could easily purchase a second turkey somewhere else.
Then I threw a kink in my own plan by imagining Bob’s face. I have to say here that Bob’s favorite hobby is cooking, the only avocation he has maintained his whole life. He loves feeding the family.
It wouldn’t be easy for him to cope with a missing turkey. Of course, he would buy a new one, but it wouldn’t be the same type. Bob has worked out a complex regime for his turkeys, and he doesn’t welcome a hassle at the last moment.
Marriage is about knowing the other person well.
I knew his tension would rise immediately to a level that takes the fun out of cooking, as if he had burnt the pie. I pictured his face falling, his brow crinkling.
I went to my son and said plaintively, “I’m not sure I can play the trick. He’ll be so upset.”
“Don’t play the joke if you don’t want to,” he responded, “but, really, I think it would be fine.”
It was interesting to me to realize that I didn’t want to inflict even 30 seconds of pain. I figured that’s about how long it would take before I confessed to hiding the second turkey.
But that felt too long, even if the trick would be funny immediately afterwards and perhaps make an amusing story for the crowd on Thanksgiving.
And, yet, I know I hurt him on a regular basis — for more than half a minute –just in the process of being married to him and encountering those frequent but ordinary bumps in the road.
If you’re looking for a definition of love, it might be not wanting to inflict even 30 extra seconds of pain. Accidents happen, of course, but should I make him unhappy on purpose?
Wednesday evening, Bob came home. He had done some shopping, and I saw him coming from the car with two big bags of groceries. I knew his first stop would be the refrigerator, which had room, thanks to the missing turkey.
I still hadn’t totally decided what to say, but I waited in the front room. Bob called out a greeting. I heard the refrigerator door open.
“Where’s the other turkey?” he called.
“Oh,” I said in my carefully practiced, semi-sorrowful tone, “They ran out.”
Here was the moment I both sought and dreaded. I couldn’t see his face. But I waited for the pause that would accompany the bad 30 seconds, the pause during which his shoulders would tighten, his brow would thicken, and he would think, a little desperately, “What can I do? Where can I go? The turkeys won’t match.”
But, to my complete surprise, there was no pause.
He spoke as quickly as if we were having one of our perfectly ordinary back-and-forth conversations.
“That’s not true. You’d never sound so calm. Where’d you put the other turkey?”
Marion Franck is a columnist for the Davis Enterprise. She is a part-time resident of El Dorado County.