In my latest book, Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop, I wrote a lot about my father. In fact, the idea of seeing conferring as the keystone, the strength of reader's workshop, was based on the fact that my father was a stonemason and bricklayer. Dad died on November 21, 1988, three days before Thanksgiving... his funeral was on the 23rd, a Wednesday. It was no small task, planning a funeral in two days, but we did it (Mom wanted the funeral before Thanksgiving)! And, despite the sadness of dad's death, it was one of Thanksgivings that will go down as one of my family's favorites. Dad would have loved it!
Wednesday was one of those beautiful Novembers in southern Colorado. Warm. Sunny. Blue skies. Fluffy white clouds. So many memories of that day still float through my mind... I remember looking across the lawn at the funeral home as we were getting into the limousine and seeing Ruthe Smith, our next door neighbor lady staring at the hearse, dumbfounded and sad, waiting to wave goodbye to her dearly departed friend (I jumped out and went over and gave her a huge hug and I still remember her whispering "I'll miss him..." in my ear). I remember my niece, Trudy, singing You're Something Special to Me so beautifully, so clear... and I still can't listen to Just a Closer Walk With Thee without tearing up. I remember watching my mom, Freda, sitting there not wanting to say goodbye to the love of her life (her ol' Crab Patch). I remember my older brother, Dan, having to say goodbye to his pal (his first funeral); Dad and Dan were kindred spirits.
And, I remember Thanksgiving that year.
After the funeral, we decided we should perhaps plan Thanksgiving. So all the brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, got busy cooking. Everything was going well until we realized that no one had thought to thaw the turkey (can't imagine why). The turkey we were going to cook was the grand champion at the state fair (yep, that's what they are raised for) the previous year and weighed 42 pounds! Yes, 42 pounds. That's a HUGE turkey. Its size created HUGE turkey roasting difficulties.
Problem 1) Frozen. Problem solved... (much to the chagrin of some of us), it was quickly thawed in a sterilized bathtub! Where else would it fit? Quick thaw methods aren't necessarily safe according to everything I've read.
Problem 2) Too big. Who has an oven that fits a 42 pound turkey? So, my brothers went to work. They decided to "pit roast" the turkey. Haven't heard of it? Neither had I. Here's the drill... you cook the turkey in an underground pit (which reminded me a bit of the cemetery). First dig a pit deep and wide enough for the turkey and 6 to 8 inches of hot coals (burn enough wood to make a hot coal bed, 6 to 8 inches deep). Cover the hot coals with a sheet of tin. Place your wrapped turkey on the tin. Then cover the hole with another sheet of tin. Bury the top sheet with dirt (to keep the heat in). Supposedly, you can come back in 10 to 12 hours and you have perfectly roasted meat. An underground oven of sorts. And supposedly if you do it at night, the next morning it's ready! So that's what they did... it was a marvel of engineering.
Problem 3) Didn't work. When we uncovered the "pit"... the fire had gone out and the partially cooked turkey had "rested" in the pit overnight.
Problem 4) What to do? What else... you're on a farm, grab a saw! Saw the partially cooked bird in half with a "sterilized" handsaw. Postpone dinner for a few hours. Cook half in your sister's oven, cook half in your mother's oven... Viola`... two 21 pound turkeys!
Suddenly my brothers, who's engineering prowess had failed, were basking in the fact that the bird was indeed golden, delicious, and thoroughly cooked!
When we sat down to dinner I whispered to my wife, "I'm not eating any turkey."
She replied, "Me either!" We both decided to be the designated drivers... when our family was stricken with food poisoning from quick-thawed, partially cooked, viciously sawed, and oven-roasted turkey.
BUT God was watching over us that Thanksgiving. No one got sick. The meal was delicious (less turkey on my plate). The laughter was raucous. The tears flowed. The stories of dad's amazing life filled the air...
And we celebrated one of our favorite Thanksgivings. Out of sadness, came joy! Dad would have loved it... but I think, he too, would have passed on the turkey!