Every year, my mother and her sisters draw a straw from a hat to figure out which one of them is going to fix Thanksgiving dinner for the family.
Three years ago , Aunt Cecily drew the shortest straw, designating her as the Thanksgiving chef. My mother and her sister Margaret nearly fainted. Aunt Cecily was the kind of person fresh produce ran from in the grocery store. Even the frozen foods section would shudder in horror as she strolled through.
Aunt Margaret tried her best to get Aunt Cecily to hand the duty over to either her or my mother.
“Let someone else do it,” Aunt Margaret said. “You don’t want to aggravate your arthritis.”
“You’re the one with arthritis,” Aunt Cecily retorted. “Looks like you’re losing your memory to, Mags. Best if I do the cooking. You wouldn’t want every one showing up only to realize you forgot to thaw out the turkey the night before.”
Aunt Cecily rocked insults and snappy comebacks. In some ways, that made her my favorite aunt. Both of my aunts are dear to me, but Aunt Margaret was a proper woman. Never said anything hateful. Never cussed. Not Aunt Cecily. She has a mouth that shames rappers. Alas, it is with heavy heart I must report that my favorite, spicy-tongued aunt was not talented in the kitchen. She burned macaroni and cheese, blew up frozen dinners in her microwave and nearly set her kitchen on fire, having not realized that when she turned the oven on to bake cookies, she set the temperature to self-cleaning.
As that fateful dinner neared, even I grew nervous.
Thanksgiving came around and I heard ramblings my mother made while she was on the phone with her sister, suggesting we all eat a big lunch so that the disastrous dinner wouldn’t leave us hungry. Eventually it was decided that Aunt Cecily’s sisters would stand by her, silently praying this would be the year she would get her routine in the kitchen right.
Since we have a large family – 25 people in total, we rent out a large hall for the event. We arrived at the hall thirty minutes early and made our way toward the large table, covered with white linen table cloths. Paper plates and plastic utensils occupied every place setting. Everything appeared complete except for one thing: a pleasant aroma
“She burned something.” My mother’s eyes grew wide with worry.
“Yup,” Aunt Margaret said. “Told you so. I’d say we could fill up on bread rolls but I don’t see those set out.”
“Maybe she burned those too,” my mother replied.
I followed the two of them as they inched their way toward the kitchen, located at the far side of the hall. The horror displayed in the kitchen was something poor Aunt Cecily will never live down.
Three burned turkeys stood on the center island. In my entire life, I’ve never seen black turkeys; these were charred beyond recognition. The bread rolls mentioned earlier sat in a heap in six different bread baskets undercooked and doughy.
As for the side dishes, normally we feast on sweet potato casserole, sausage stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. Aunt Cecily clearly had something else in mind. Specifically, burned macaroni cheese. Maybe she didn’t want the turkeys to feel bad. Or, maybe she had a theme: blackened everything.
Regardless of what she was thinking, Aunt Cecily placed the turkeys, raw rolls and blackened mac and cheese on the large dining table, one by one as we all gathered around the table, silently wishing we ate a big lunch before our arrival.
Every time I think about that Thanksgiving one thought comes to mind, “Thank God she bought a ton of gravy.”