My uncle deep fried a turkey. At age twelve, I’d never seen such a thing. He claimed it made the bird taste better.
But I think he did it because he liked sipping Budweiser outdoors.
It was my first Thanksgiving as a fatherless kid. It was going to be a lonely one. The holidays seemed to make happy people happier, and sad people more lonely. Even our dog was sad.
Daddy’s Lab had gotten into a trash bag of his old clothes and made a bed out of his button-downs. I guess she wanted to smell him.
When someone dies. You empty their closet and fill storage bags with their clothes. It’s the worst chore you’ll ever do. But it’s better than looking at orphaned hanging clothes.
My uncle lifted the turkey from the peanut oil.
“Needs more time,” he said.
I visited the kitchen. My aunt was preparing a humble meal. Potatoes, greens, sweet potato pie, gravy.
In the den, Mama sat on the sofa, staring out the window. She didn’t have much to say. In fact, she hadn’t said more than a few words in months.
A knock on the door.
Mama made a face, saying, “We’re not expecting company.”
It was my cousins. They brought squash casserole. Mama forced a fake smile. So did I.
Another knock. My aunt and uncle—with chicken gizzards.
More knocks. Two more uncles, two more aunts. They brought cheese straws.
The Millers, McLanes, and Jacksons from church. They’d brought an entire bakery and fourteen rugrats.
Knock, knock, knock.
Dan and Meredith, from the farm behind us. They’d brought a bathtub-cooler of Coke and beer. More knocks. Three members of my ball team, sporting neckties and greased hair.
Mister Dole and his wife. They brought venison back strap, boiled peanuts, and his hunting dog.
Daddy’s friend Billy—holding a plastic milk-jug of something clear.
Miss Wanda, with tomato relish, pickled okra, poundcake, and her magnificent husband, Harry.
Mister Don brought me a copy of Field and Stream.
My buddy Ryan and his grandma brought potato salad, pear salad, god-awful tomato aspic.
There were so many people in our house, it sounded like a flock of flamingos. Not a single frown, nor a hand without an aluminum can. Women crowded the kitchen. Men sat out back, smoking, telling illicit jokes.
And for the first time, even if only for a few hours, I smiled.
When it was time to say grace, everyone congregated, spilling out of the kitchen. Elbow to elbow.
“Dear God,” my uncle began, removing his cap. “May we never forget the true reason we’ve gathered together here today.”
Well, there’s no way we could.
You don’t forget deep fried turkey.