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Monday, November 19, 2012

It All Comes Down To 27lbs Of Poultry.

So I may or may not be cooking a turkey for my entire paternal side of the family this week.

I'm trying REALLY HARD not to freak out about it.

There was just a moment, at the last family gathering, where my grandmother and my two aunts were hashing out who was going to cover what for Thanksgiving and I was within earshot, listening to my grandmother say it's too hard for her to do it any longer and her recounting the year she dropped the turkey on the open oven door as she was trying to check it, knowing that was pretty much the beginning of the end of an era.

My dad piped up that he could host in his house, and my grandmother tentatively asked if he could handle the turkey. As he paused to think about it, I watched the quiet panic cross the faces of my grandmother and my two aunts.

It's not that my dad can't cook, because he can -- he's where my Italian and my German come from -- but he's usually in charge of the pumpkin pies, which is completely a throwback to when my parents were still together and my mom made excellent pies. It's the bizarre reverse sexism in my family (which is often not reversed), that it's female territory to cook the family holiday meals. As I understand it from just growing up immersed in it, if it can't be cooked on a grill, the men don't touch it, full stop.

One of my aunts, the one who's been trying very hard over the last decade or so to keep family gatherings happening at a monthly rate despite all nine of us grandkids becoming teenagers into adults and therefore carving out our own lives and families beyond our namesake one, has tried to do the turkey before and is gun shy from those experiences. My other aunt is constantly overbooked with her time and knows her limits and isn't shy at all about voicing them.

So, watching the three of them sit at the table in my organizer aunt's house, concern upon their faces, my dad standing over them with no less an amount of worry upon his face, I did the only thing I could think to do.

I approached the table and threw my name into the mix.

I knew I could do it because I made a turkey for the first time ever last year, for my mom's family who came in to visit over Thanksgiving. Kyle was in charge of everything else, but that bird was mine. And it was moist, tender, and delicious for the days of leftovers afterwards. I was more than capable, and I'd had practice so I wasn't a complete novice, and damnit, I'm the oldest grandchild, married with my own kids now. I felt confident in my final break with being a kid and inclusion into being an adult in this family.
My First Thanksgiving Turkey
The surprise on the faces of my dad and my aunts was tempered by the one of relief on my grandmother's -- we're both Pisces, she and I, our birthdays one right after the other, and she has always been one of my biggest cheerleaders in the family. She was quick to ask if I could help my dad, and when I answered I could just do it so my dad didn't have to worry about it, I was handed a post-it by my organizer aunt to start making a list of my responsibilities for Thanksgiving dinner, and was directed toward a seat.

My dad still looked unsure, knowing less of my cooking skills and more of the stories of me accidentally setting food (and myself) on fire, and I couldn't blame him.

But, I did have an ace in my pocket.

I yelled to my brother, who was watching football with my uncle and boy cousins in the other room, asking him how the turkey I made last year tasted. I knew no one would take Kyle seriously there, because obviously he wouldn't make me look bad in front of them, even though most of them know he does the day-to-day cooking in our home.

And my brother, ever the succinct, yelled back his affirmation.

That was enough to make my dad laugh and shake his head, his own way of stepping back and accepting the situation while still not being 100% behind it, which is pretty much how he handles everything he's presented with unless it was his idea to begin with.

With that, I sat down at the table, with the two generations of women who precede me, and though they still called me Tabby, I felt a shift within the family structure, a quiet graduation from another mouth to feed to another mother in this family, someone responsible for weaving the fabric of our family together as it grows and expands.


This is more than just a turkey. This is a test, in a way, of my ability to play with the big kids, to hold my own in our very large, very competitive family. A successful bird will earn me a place with the responsible grown-ups, and will gain me some respect that will have been hard-fought for the span of my 28 years. But failure -- failure will relegate me to forever be a kid, not to be trusted with major tasks or really as a contributing adult to the family structure, a final nail in the coffin of their suspicions of me as some how less than, incapable of the true markers of adulthood, still just a petulant teenager trapped within the frame of a person feigning adulthood.

I have such a tumultuous relationship with my paternal family, and this is pretty much the make or break moment I was never sure I was going to be afforded.


To ease my nerves, I want to hear about your family traditions for Thanksgiving. I want to know who cooks the turkey (or tofurkey) in your families and how seniority is handled and really, I just want to hear that my family isn't the only one where this is a major big deal.

Just no horror stories unless I majorly screw this up, okay? GOOD TURKEY VIBES PEOPLE.