Friday, August 04, 2006

The Turkey and The Sleeping Dragon

I am twenty-four years old. For all intents and purposes, I am an independent adult.

However, I am terrified of my mother.

Waking, she is loud, brash, larger than life, smart, beautiful, intimidating, and outrageous.

Sleeping, she is a very frightening thing, indeed. And she has a terrible, terrible temper.

Once, my brother was sick with food poisoning (and this is a boy who has my father’s stomach of steel) and he threw up, and he’s pretty darn large for a kid (fifteen years, six foot one, deuce and some change, size fourteen feet) and after he had done so, he came to my room to ask me to help him find some medicine, and his labored shuffling on the carpeted floor woke my mother.

Who flew from her room in a flowered nightgown and was suddenly upon us, hissing, “What the hell is going on out here!”

A statement, not a question. When I said, “Zak’s sick, I was just trying to help him, he’s throwing up,” the words were no sooner out of my mouth then they were answered.

“Don’t be so loud about it!” And as fast as it happened, the door slammed and it was over.

So last Thanksgiving Eve, when my mother gave me explicit directions, I listened very carefully and took notes. The turkey, for the eight people she was serving the next day, including my very proper and very French great-Aunt Nicole (pronounced knee-cole), was chilling on the wooden porch because it was very cold and there wasn’t room in the freezer, was to be taken out and placed in several plastic bags in a pristine sink to thaw slowly so that at 5 AM she could begin to cook it. She went to bed at 10 PM. I promised to bring the turkey inside when I went to bed somewhere around 12.

At about 11:30, I decided to take the turkey in early, because I suddenly remembered and did not want to forget. Yet, when I padded onto the porch wearing slippers and my dad’s winter jacket, I did not see it.

I got a flashlight and powered the beam onto the tables, the railing, the chairs, the stairs. Still I did not see it. So I went inside and asked my brother, who was a bit of a turkey himself in that he never proved to be much help in solving a problem, to please come out, and please help me look.

He came out barefoot and in shorts, looked for half a minute, then went inside. I followed him.

I said, “Zak. We have to find the turkey.”

He said, “No. You have to find the turkey.”

I took a breath and used all the ammo I had. “Do you really think Mom will care who’s fault it is? You’ll pay too. Everyone will pay.” It was very Shakespearean.

All are punished.

He put on shoes. We looked for the next hour and a half. I kept asking him, “Did you see the turkey out here earlier? Did you move it? Do you think an animal took it?”

He kept rolling his eyes, as he was missing Cartoon Network.

We crouched around the perimeter of the house; maybe it had blown away with some tremendous wind? Maybe the dog had dragged it underneath a car? Maybe when my mom said “porch” she really meant “the barn”?

Finally, I said it.

“The turkey is gone.” The fear was thick-on-my-tongue palpable. For Zak too.

I ventured, “We have two options. We wake up Mom to tell her now and ask if she put it somewhere else. Or, we wait until she wakes up and finds it’s missing.”

I knew the problem with each of these. If we waited until morning, we’d surely ruin Thanksgiving, because it would be too late to buy another turkey, and even if it wasn’t, the turkey would be frozen, and there wouldn’t be enough time to thaw to roast it. Having ruined considerable more holidays than my brother, as I out-aged him by nine years, I knew that I couldn’t do that.

But waking my mother is like waking a sleeping dragon. As though she suffers from a curse in which she kisses us goodnight, floats upstairs, closes her door, shuts off the light with that, the room transforms. A darkened lair in a wicked forest, and she's a black-haired witch for eight hours only to emerge bright-eyed in the morning, seen singing over her coffee mug and swatting my dad with a dish towel.

I consider myself to be fearless in many ways, but this was not one of them.

Tears welling in my eyes, I knew what I had to do. Wake her now, and hope that I had simply misheard her, and she would tell me where the turkey was so I could do what needed to be done, and then chalk everything up to a strange dream she had that I could convince her never happened.

Outside her room, where I could hear my father snoring, was a different story. My brother and I stood together, fiercely arguing in whispers.

“You do it!”



The door opened with a shot.

My mother, her flowered nightgown, her squished up sleep-face, her hair askew, it was all happening again.

“What the bloody hell are you doing?! I just fell asleep!!”

Simultaneously, we stammered. “We lost the turkey!”

Wordlessly, my mother pushed past us and stomped downstairs. Then, the screaming began.

“Who’s wearing my coat? Get me some boots! What the hell were you thinking?!”

We followed her to the porch door. I hung back, half-hoping that she would immediately find the turkey and it would be all over, then hoping not, because then we wouldn’t be two idiot kids, but justified. Not that it mattered to her whether we were justified or not.

I held my breath. Zak trembled.

My mother stomped back inside. “I don’t see it.”

Together, then, we looked across the boards of the porch, boards that I knew very well, as I had scoured them many times earlier that night.

My mother decided to look in the dumpster behind our house as a last, illogical resort.

And there, underneath a pile of coffee grinds, was the turkey, quadruple wrapped in a mylar-like covering.

We came to a conclusion. The only conclusion.

My brother, right after dinner, when he took out the trash, had thrown the turkey away.

Let me repeat. My brother, who had gone through this entire thing with me all night, had thrown the turkey into the dumpster.

Because he thought, as it was wrapped up in so many protective bags, that someone had placed trash on the table outside, and he was simply, in his mind, taking it out.

I shrieked, “What are we gonna do? About dinner tomorrow?!”

With that, we all burst into wave after wave of laughter. Because we could not get another turkey, because company was coming, because it was two in the morning. Then my mom paused and said,

“Don’t tell Aunt Nicole.”

We took it inside. We thawed it in the sink. And we cooked it, special seasoning and all.

We rationalized it as it had been wrapped so many times, and we rinsed it thoroughly, and it was not really in the trash, per se, at least not in a highly offending way. But for his idiocy, my brother, usually quite loud-mouthed, was sworn to secrecy that he would not say anything about it to anyone at the table, and he kept his promise so that no one would know what he had done except the immediate family.

And to tell you the truth, it ended up okay because the turkey, stuffed with a lemon and garlic and rosemary, was a big hit.

But even more importantly, I had passed the torch of ruining holidays from my hand to that of my brother’s…


Buffy said...

Just out of nosey curiosity.

Are we talking about a metaphorical iron fist?

K said...


You are so right--I read it and it looked so abusive that I took it away. I did mean metaphorically, she's a screamer, not a hitter.


Anonymous said...

That's an awesome story. Hillarious.

Sunday's Child said...

loved it! those "immediate family secrets" make the best stories.

themarina said...

What a great story. I like the buildup as well. Not to mention how funny it was!

Have a great weekend!

jm said...

Very funny. Thanks for the well-told story!

M said...

rofl! In a way sounds a bit like my mum - though with her, she looks like this cute little woman until you try to cross her in business. It's then that she will CUT you! lol.

Grant said...

Not that I intend to sound crass, but, wasn't it already seasoned?

It's a wonderful and amusing story, and I am getting this vivid picture of your refined, lawnmower treeing mother that brings a chuckle everytime I think of that story.

Broady said...

Great story, a Thanksgiving classic! Love the description of you mother's bedroom as a lair where she regenerates for the next day. Very Grimmsian!

mamak said...

You mom sounds just like mine. I would hyperventalate if I missed the school bus in the morning because I knew that she would flame! Also, the throwing up part .. that is an exact scene from my house.
Whew ...

Cheetarah1980 said...

on the real, I'd probably do the exact same thing. Hilarious story.

Buffy said...

Ahh...see NOW it's funny. (Not that it wasn't know... :) )

Serena said...

I got nervous with you while reading it.

Lux Lisbon said...

ah, family drama. the gift that never stops giving.

Anonymous said...

great job. you write very well. :) nice story

tallglassofvino said...

great piece! being the 'dark grey' sheep in my own family, I loved the 'torch passing' bit!