by Debbie Carini
“How does she do it?” I used to wonder. The turkey, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole, the baked sweet potatoes, the roasted nut mix, the pumpkin pie, the onion dip.
When I was a kid, the preparations for Thanksgiving seemed like one of those complicated endeavors—like buying insurance or changing the oil in the car—that only a grown-up could accomplish. The myriad food stuffs and place settings and potables added-up to one of those horrible word problems in math: If potatoes take 20 minutes to boil and the turkey is ready when the red thingy pops up and 10 people need to sit around a table that only holds eight, how long will it be before we eat dinner and who will be balancing their plate on a wobbly snack tray?
I was always that kid who was afraid she was going to miss something (never fell asleep on a car ride), so when my mom rose early on Thanksgiving morning to set in motion this multi-layered feast with the precision and speed of a quartermaster mustering the troops, I was right there, too, knocking-back a Pop Tart with an Instant Breakfast chaser, and tuning into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I never actually helped my mother, but I sat in the kitchen to provide companionship and support, except when she would reach inside the bird to pull out the organs. Then I would almost faint and hope-beyond-hope to one day grow up and have house help like Mr. French from the T.V. show Family Affair or Alice from The Brady Bunch to violate a turkey in this way for me.
Next came the slicing, dicing, mashing and basting that lead to innumerable side dishes. She did all this utilizing a basic, single oven, four-burner stove, though I dreamily imagined her working in the space-aged kitchen that was featured in the last tableau of Disneyland’s “Carousel of Progress”—complete with talking appliances and touch screens.
The first time I made a holiday dinner, 3,000 miles away from the safety and coziness of my mom’s kitchen, I tried a fancy recipe from a highfalutin’ cooking magazine for bourbon-mashed sweet potatoes, an attempt to “gourmetize” (made-up, but useful word) my feast. In my zeal with Jack Daniels (the closest I could come to actual bourbon), I over-imbibed the potatoes to the point where those of us present remember little else about the evening.
Inconceivably, the little girl who once shuddered at the mere mention of the word gizzard has now happily taken on the family feast, welcoming family and friends for more than 15 years. My children have risen early to sit in the kitchen and make handprint turkey place cards and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (and hear, for probably the 1000th time in their lives, about how their mom once marched in said parade as a clown and how she cried with happiness when she stepped over the starting line and proceeded to march down Broadway behind the helium-filled balloons).
And—much as the Carousel of Progress promised—science has figured a way to take the “ick” factor out of the day, by neatly wrapping all those little innards in a paper package that can be easily seized in one fell-swoop. For that, and for many blessings in my life, I am deeply thankful.