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October 23, 2013
Column

A man's work on Thanksgiving morn

by Phil Crossman

At 5 a.m. on Thanksgiving I came downstairs to put the turkey in the oven. On the counter was a note. "Sweetie Pie," it began. Notes from my wife always begin with "Sweetie Pie." It's a softening agent.

"Rinse the turkey well, inside and out, with cold water, and pat dry. Carefully put the stuffing in the bird. Place it in the pan, breast side up. Rub it with olive oil and these herbs and put it in the oven at 350."

I found the turkey in the refrigerator and suppressed some irritation for her not having made the bird's location clear. At 25 pounds it more than filled the sink basin and I concluded right away that the bathtub would be a much easier place in which to "rinse well inside and out and dry thoroughly."

I put the turkey in the tub, reflecting on how much easier this would have been if, when in the shower myself a few minutes earlier, I had simply washed us both.

The tub was the perfect place and the massage showerhead brought clarity to "rinse well inside and out." Paper towel, dissolving in pieces inside the bird, was not the thing with which to "dry thoroughly" but a hand towel, the one I'd used earlier while shaving, worked perfectly.

Back in the kitchen, I focused on the squeaky clean bird. It had two holes and I wondered if the small hole at one end was a continuation of the opposite larger hole; if I could expect the stuffing pushed in to one end to eventually squish from the other. If so, I'd close up the small end and work from the larger orifice, into which I could more readily fit my fist full of stuffing.

I stuck a flashlight in one end and turned off the lights. No corresponding illumination could be seen at the other and the reverse was true so I stuffed both ends separately. Still, the bird was quite full, full enough that the little flap at the small end would not stay closed and the legs at the other would not stay together. I skewered the small end flap closed with a lobster pick.

A length of something that looked like tendon protruded from the end of each drumstick and seemed to be fashioned into a kind of loop. I thought this had been some sort of barbaric hobble visited on the unfortunate bird back at the aviary to keep it constricted. They were certainly unsightly and I set about removing them but a knife wouldn't touch them.

Retrieving a pair of aviation snips from the cellar, my eyes fell upon my cordless drill and the assortment of fasteners and there I perceived a means of keeping the birds legs together. I hastened back to the bird, made short work of the tendons with the snips, and screwed the troublesome legs together with a 3-inch deck screw.

Nestling the bird in the barely adequate roasting pan I covered it with olive oil, lubricating every inch, every gentle fold, each appealing crease, every nook and, in particular, the crannies, and enjoying myself altogether too much. I rubbed in the herbs she'd assembled and while admiring my handiwork I reviewed the instructions. "Breast side up" leapt out at me. I turned to look more carefully at the bird.   

There was a time when an invitation to place a thing "breast side up" would have been one to which I'd have responded flawlessly and with no small degree of confidence. Now I was confused. I held its tiny wings out to the left and right and tried to imagine it high stepping around in the barnyard. 

I had to get the thing out of the pan. There only being two ways to have installed it, other than by standing it on its head, whichever end that was, I knew there was at least as good a chance I had installed it breast side up as breast side down, but that wasn't good enough. The prospect of her opening the oven door and wondering aloud if I could not do anything right, perhaps even with a reference to breasts, perhaps with others by then in attendance, loomed large.

Twenty-five pounds is a lot to lift and a very lot to hold aloft by those tiny, well-oiled wings.  Were it not for the rough texture of the applied herbs, I'd have had no purchase at all.

Held at arm's length the legs, screwed together and sticking straight out, offered no clue as to which direction was up.

I stuck two shish kabob skewers in the surface which, at the moment, was up, as imaginary legs, turned it up on one end and grabbed the wings in such a way that the bird articulated with its new legs pointed downward. Holding on hard to the little slippery wings I struggled to hold the big bird aloft while trying it imagine it strutting about the barnyard un-hobbled, breasts correctly aligned, on its stainless steel prostheses.

Basil and oregano are ineffective aggregates. I was relying on the rosemary and thyme to keep the bird in my grasp and it worked well for a few seconds.

When the turkey hit the floor it landed on its new feet next to the cat who, such acrobatics being its second nature, was unimpressed. The stainless steel legs buckled as the skewers punctured the linoleum, the points at which each bend occurred becoming, effectively, knees.

I retained a measure of control and, managing to keep it from falling over, was able to ascertain that the bird was, in fact upside down, that the position in which I had installed the bird in the pan had, indeed, been breast side up. I was right all along, a familiar circumstance.

My wife came down a little later. She eyed the skewers still sticking out of the linoleum and around which had spread a significant little oil slick. These were to be my visual aid as I delivered a mild rebuke concerning the need, henceforth, for more thorough instructions.

The cordless drill and snips were on the counter and I was graciously preparing to make her a gift of these after having explained their culinary usefulness and after offering other helpful hints intended to improve her performance and efficiency in the kitchen. Her suggestion that I return my tools to the cellar and perhaps stay there with them for a while was not at all in the spirit of Thanksgiving.  

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven with his long-suffering wife Elaine. The couple owns and operates the Tidewater Motel, where Thanksgiving dinner is not—thankfully—served to the public.

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