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A Tale of Two Turkeys

Thanksgiving is such a wonderful time for families and friends to gather ‘round a bountiful table with grateful hearts for all the many blessings in our lives. 


For years the holiday was so traumatic for me because I had no confidence in the kitchen. Fortunately, I’d gotten way with only fixing side dishes for Thanksgiving dinners since my mother and mother-in-law did such a wonderful job cooking the traditional turkey and dressing. By the time I reached my mid-thirties, though, I thought it was time for me to learn how to cook a turkey— not the dressing, mind you. That was a whole other level of learning I wasn’t ready to tackle yet. I invited everyone over to have Thanksgiving at our house.


Nervous as I was, though, I felt confident that everything would turn out all right since I had a Butterball turkey. The label assured me it was ‘self-basting’, and they even provided a phone number to call for help if I needed it. How hard could it be when the turkey did all the work? I borrowed a huge pan from my mom, pealed off the packaging around the turkey, rinsed that bird off, threw it in the pan, and popped it in the oven. The turkey was cooking just fine until my husband walked into the kitchen and took a look at it.


“Did you know you’re cooking the turkey upside down?”


No, I didn’t, but I wasn’t about to let him know.


“That’s how you’re supposed to cook it. Who died and made you an authority on turkeys?”

“Have you basted it yet?”


“You’re not supposed to baste a Butterball turkey. It is self-basting.”


“You’re always supposed to baste a turkey.”


And how many turkeys have you cooked in your lifetime?”


He walked out of the kitchen. I jerked open the oven door and flipped that bird over. My confidence was shaken just a bit. I wondered if there was something else I should know about turkeys. I turned my attention to the umpteen other things to do in preparation for the big family dinner.


After a while, the turkey expert came into the kitchen again.


“Have you basted the turkey?”


“No, I haven’t basted the turkey. It is self-basting. That means it bastes itself.”


“But you’re always supposed to baste a turkey.”

“This is my turkey, and if I choose not to baste it, I will not baste it.” It was a matter of principle then.


“It’s gonna be dry.”


I think I threw a dishtowel at him as he walked out the door. I looked at the turkey and smiled to myself. It was gorgeous. I finished preparing everything else and jumped in the shower before everyone arrived. 


My mother came early and asked about the giblet gravy. I told her the giblets didn’t come with this particular turkey. She gave me a sympathetic smile as she dug stuff out of both ends of my beautiful turkey. I was glad about two things: that the packaging wasn’t plastic and that the Big Turkey Kahuna wasn’t in the kitchen at that moment. 


After Mom made the giblet gravy, the family gathered around the table for the blessing, and my husband carried in my perfectly cooked Butterball turkey and set it down to carve. He looked over at me and smiled.


“I have to tell you, Sweetheart, that the turkey turned out beautifully…”


All the anger melted away. The pressure was gone. Life was good. I looked at him with such love and then looked at my turkey with such pride…


“…because when you were in the shower I took the turkey out and basted it.”

I haven’t cooked another turkey since. 




Author’s note: I wrote this in 1999, ten years after I cooked my first turkey. A week before Thanksgiving in 1999, the bonfire collapsed at Texas A&M University. My mom and I cooked a Thanksgiving meal for TAMU’s EMS student volunteers working Thanksgiving weekend, and the students were still reeling from responding to the tragedy. I’m so proud of those amazing young people who kept the campus EMS operating 24/7, 365 days a year while attending college. Today, most of those student EMTs and paramedics continue in the first responder and medical fields, and they remain lifelong friends. They were definitely worth ending my 'no cooking turkey' streak. But Mom still made the dressing. 


Donna Van Cleve

November 2020

Humor, Family History

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