When I was growing up, our family’s Thanksgiving ritual was more carefully planned and executed than the Battle of Normandy.
A couple of weeks before Halloween, my Mom would buy a frozen turkey about the size of our German Shepherds and harder than a bowling ball.
Then she’d start planning.
Because making huge Thanksgiving dinners was a painstaking and complicated activity back in the Cold War days.
Turkey producers had to ensure their Butterballs were delicious AND able to contribute to the war effort, if needed.
When test-dropped by B-52 bombers at Tinker Air Force Base, frozen turkey bombs had to be able to penetrate 10 feet of steel-reinforced concrete, even without the dressing.
So Mom always bought her frozen turkey at Safeway super early.
This was to ensure that, even in the event of a calamity, like a turkey shortage or the Russians invading Oklahoma, she could still deliver a 5-Star Thanksgiving dinner for the whole “fam damily”.
In mid-November, we were required to start eating like pigs to free up freezer space for the giant frozen turkey.
I personally had to devour countless containers of frozen beef stew and spaghetti sauce. It was hard work, but you make sacrifices for your family.
While I was eating, Mom we was planning, and writing to-do lists as long as her arm.
Exactly two weeks before T-Day, she’d inventory every kitchen cabinet, and restock any critical item, e.g. nutmeg, so she could cater to everyone’s dietary requirements and personal preferences.
There could be NO actual cranberries in the cranberry sauce, and NO pickles in the devilled eggs, or my Dad would throw a hissy fit.
And Mom had to make two kinds of banana pudding and keep them at least three feet apart at all times.
The Normal Banana Pudding was for 99% of the family. The Banana Pudding With No Bananas was for me.
If a real banana made it into my mouth, my throat would instantly swell shut and I would die, which almost certainly would complicate the seating chart.
When Thanksgiving Week officially began on Sunday, Mom shifted into overdrive.
She risked getting a debilitating back injury by pulling the giant frozen turkey out of the freezer. By then, it weighed at least 90 pounds, including surface ice, and was harder than a nuclear centrifuge.
Scientists used the Mohs Hardness Scale to determine a mineral's hardness by its relative resistance to scratching.
The Mom Hardness Scale determined a frozen turkey’s hardness by poking the bird with her giant turkey fork.
After prodding every square inch of the bird, Mom would wrap it in a bath towel, put it inside her big black and blue roasting pan, and lug it into the garage.
It would sit on top of the dryer, where it would naturally defrost under the watchful eye of our salivating guard dogs.
Starting at dawn on Monday morning, and continuing at precise intervals thereafter, Mom would use her turkey fork to meticulously probe the bird.
The fork had to sink further and further into its flesh as the clock ticked closer to Thanksgiving.
There was no margin for error. That’s why it was not unusual for me to wake up during the night to pee and find Mom out in the garage, intensely probing the bird at 3am.
On Tuesday, Mom would blitzkrieg Safeway to buy everything that she could possibly need to cook Thanksgiving lunch and dinner, and everything that anybody coming to our house might possibly want, in their wildest dreams.
By now, Mom was like a one-woman war machine in an apron. She had that 1,000-yard-stare that soldiers get after fighting too many battles on too little sleep.
She was cooking almost every hour of the day. And when she wasn’t cooking, she was cleaning our house, yet again, so that even the most critical relative would only find perfection at 1332 Nebraska.
From this point on, if you were male and had any brains at all, you stayed OUT OF THE KITCHEN unless you were specifically called in by Mom, to be fed and watered under close scrutiny, and then sent on your way.
On Wednesday, there would be at least three kinds of pies baking in the oven, sauces simmering on the top burners, and huge bowls of hand-torn bread on the kitchen counter, just waiting to be turned into the best dressing ever served in the State of Oklahoma.
In all honestly, the U.S. Navy never moved with the speed and efficiency of Mom’s kitchen. Everything was in perpetual motion, yet her kitchen was spotless.
On Thanksgiving morning, as a safety precaution, all kitchen windows had to be kept open, even if it was 20 below outside.
This was to prevent the wooden kitchen table and chairs from spontaneously combusting due to the oven door constantly being opened for precision basting and more turkey-poking with the giant fork.
Come Thanksgiving Day, her enormous efforts would deliver in spectacular fashion.
Mom’s typical Thanksgiving menu included:
Turkey, chicken, ham, my beloved dressing, sweet potato casserole with toasted marshmallows, mashed taters, green bean casserole with bacon and crispy onions on top, skinny green beans, red beans, Ranch Style beans, unknown bean beans, three-bean salad, cornbread (normal), jalapeño cornbread, dinner rolls, corn, devilled eggs, celery stuffed with peanut butter or pimento cheese, coleslaw, dinner salads, and apple/walnut/whipped cream salad (made by my Moew, my Mom’s Mom).
Baked cinnamon apples, umpteen kinds of Jell-o, apple pie, punkin’ pie, pecan pie (topped with ice cream, home-made whipped cream, Cool Whip or Reddi-wip), a spectacular chocolate cake, banana pudding (with and without bananas), brown gravy, white gravy, and gravy gravy, plus cranberry sauce (without cranberries).
Everything was cooked and in its place when family started arriving at about 11 a.m.
There was Grampa and Grandma Bertha, Moew, plus countless additional family, friends and neighbors.
Some only stayed a few minutes; some looked like they had no intention of ever leaving.
The crowd would swell to the point that our three bedroom house far exceeded Norman fire codes. But since Dad was the Fire Marshal, we were covered.
Mom’s strict Thanksgiving protocols spelled out precisely where ever woman should sit or stand in her small kitchen, and what her responsibilities were.
Some would manage the stove top. Some would load plates, and I mean LOAD plates. Others, like my sisters, would deliver them to the living room.
Other than Grandpa, no man alive, not even my Dad – who carried a badge and .38 revolver at times – was allowed in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, lest he move a critical fork or plate or, God forbid, spill something.
The excitement and sheer noise would build until, all of a sudden, someone in authority would loudly announce that Gramps was about to say grace.
Immediately, the house was silent. Not just quiet, but silent.
Gramps would bow his head, ever so reverently, place his large hands together and deeply, humbly, sincerely thank the Good Lord for the food we were about to receive, for the nourishment of our bodies.
Then he would say a heartfelt Amen and ….
The house would explode with talking, and laughing and television, and perpetual motion.
Grandma Bertha would bring Gramps the first plate, prepared just the way he liked it, and he’d eat while sitting in my Dad’s recliner.
Then plate after plate, all piled high with food, would be delivered to men in the living room, theoretically from oldest to youngest.
But I had contacts in high places, so I usually got fed right after Gramps.
Our living room was football central.
The TV was always turned up LOUD so Dad could hear it. And we’d all spend the next two-and-a-half hours stuffing our fat faces and cheering for the Dallas Cowboys, who’d be playing the much-hated Redskins.
The womenfolk would eat in the kitchen, some sitting at the crowded table, some in small chairs with plates on their laps, some standing and eating off the counter, and all under the watchful eye of my Mom.
They would eat and talk and laugh so loud that, at times, they would disturb our football game!
But I couldn’t get too upset because I was busy eating my weight in turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, green beans, etc., and half a dozen kinds of pie.
When the first game of the double-header was over, I’d squeeze through the front door like a giant beach ball, and roll down to Steve’s house to burn off a few thousand calories.
Meanwhile, some loving woman would draw the heavy living room curtains and the menfolk would “close their eyes”, just for a few minutes, and it would soon sound like chainsaws were cutting up the living room furniture.
The womenfolk would systematically be pre-washing all 10,000 dirty plates and glasses, then Grandma Bertha, ONLY GRANDMA BERTHA, who worked with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker, would somehow fit every single item into the dishwasher.
As it ran, the ladies would quietly talk about lady things, and laugh at all the farting and chainsaw snoring that was going on in the living room.
After 90 minutes or so playing with Steve, I’d come home, grab a plate and double down on dinner; this time, just turkey and dressing and gravy, plus any new pies, and wash it down with a root beer.
The other men would do likewise, with even bigger plates, but they’d be drinking scalding-hot black coffee so they wouldn’t slip into a coma.
Even so, it always looked like a pod of whales had beached in the living room.
Every man had loosened his belt a couple of notches, or even unzipped his pant as much as you could get away with in mixed company.
Soon thereafter, Grampa and Grandma Bertha would say they needed to leave, so everyone would fuss over them and tell my Mom what a great job she had done.
By 6pm, everyone else would start to waddle out the front door. Very, very slowly.
Every woman would be holding the plates and utensils they’d brought, plus tons of leftover food that Mom had insisted they take.
They’d begin their never-ending goodbyes and hugs, sometimes while standing right in front of the TV and blocking the football game yet again!
Finally, when everyone had gone, Mom would collapse into a kitchen chair, mentally and physically exhausted, but with a look of contentment on her face.
Because she knew she’d hit it out of the park once again, even though it just about killed her.
Everyone else in our house, including the dogs, were ready to explode because they’d eaten such ridiculous amounts of food.
Even so, we’d all be trying to force down just one more bite of punkin’ pie before rolling down the hall and passing out in our beds.
But that did not mean Thanksgiving was over. Oh no, no, no.
The leftovers went on and on and on; they literally fed us until the week before Christmas.
By then, Mom would have caught her second wind and started preparations for an equally fantastic Christmas feast.
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