VIEW FROM THE PORCH - A rare bird graces Thanksgiving table

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We call Annie's mom "Grandma." When Annie and I got married, Grandma laid down the law.

"I don't care where you spend Christmas, New Year's, Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, or the Fourth of July. But Thanksgiving is my day and I expect you here. Both of you. You forget that and I'm writing you out of the will. Got it?"

We got it.

Every year, we arrive late Wednesday night before Thanksgiving and stumble to bed in the guest room. It's just a hop, skip, and a jump from the kitchen.

"Better get some rest. We got a big day tomorrow," Grandma says, eyes gleaming with anticipation. "You two sleep in so you'll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the festivities."

She says that every year. Then, precisely at 4:30 a.m., Grandma arrives in the kitchen and commences a ruckus Rip VanWinkle couldn't sleep through. Annie and I lie in bed listening.

CLANG!

"She's getting the roasting pan from the pantry," Annie says. "And the roasting rack."

BANG!

"She's getting her 16-pound turkey out of the refrigerator," I say.

"Holy #%$&8^!" Grandma curses.

"Dropped it," Annie says. "She always drops it."

"She's putting her grease-spattered Joy of Cooking on the counter. Opening it to page 465. She's reading the part that says baste frequently with pan drippings."

WHAM!

"She's preheating the oven," Annie says.

"May as well get up," I say.

"Bad coffee and pineapple Danish," Annie says. "Non-dairy creamer."

Back in 1976, Grandma's turkey was dry -- really dry. Nobody's forgotten Thanksgiving 1976. Grandma swore it'd never happen again. And she meant it. Every year since, Grandma has experimented with her basting technique. Last year's experiment took the cake -- so to speak.

"I'm basting every 10 minutes," Grandma announced while Annie and I drank bad coffee with non-dairy creamer. "This bird is gonna be the moistest yet!"

Every 10 minutes like clockwork, Grandma pulled open the oven door, pulled out the oven rack with the bird on it, basted, pushed the rack back into the oven, and closed the door. The oven door was therefore more open than shut. The oven had no chance to heat. The turkey wouldn't cook. But we learned long ago to keep our mouths shut.

"Holy #$*&!" Grandma cursed. "What the %$#@ is wrong with this %$#*&@$ oven?"

"Don't know," Annie said.

Thanksgiving lunch was set for noon. (It's always set for noon. We never eat at noon.)

The rest of the family arrived bearing sweet potato casseroles (one with coconut, one without), cranberry Jell-O salads (one with celery and nuts, one without), cornbread dressing (one with oysters, one without), macaroni and cheese casseroles (one made with cream and lots of butter, one made with low-fat cottage cheese -- yuk!), green bean casserole (just one, made with cream of mushroom soup, crunchy onions on top), a basket of rolls, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, pineapple-upside-down cake, and one can of jellied cranberry sauce for those who prefer the real thing.

"Ladies, I need you in the kitchen. Men, I don't care what you do, but stay out of my kitchen." We men retired to the TV room to watch the football game.

At noon, Grandma announced the first delay.

"Having a little trouble with the oven," she said.

At 1 p.m., Grandma announced the second delay.

"Sorry folks, the #$%& oven is on the blink," she said.

At 2 p.m., Grandma announced yet another delay.

"Almost done," she said.

At 3 p.m., Annie's dad -- we call him PaPa -- disappeared into the kitchen. When he returned, he announced that the turkey was on the table. He'd put it there himself. "Whether it's done or not," he said.

It wasn't.

The family gathered around the table -- all 14 of us.

"I'm not eating that," Annie whispered.

While Papa asked the blessing, the rest of us eyed the turkey. It sat on a giant platter surrounded by wilted parsley. It wasn't crispy and brown. It was pale. You could see bloody pink meat through translucent skin. It looked like something the Centers for Disease Control would load into a hazmat bag and cart away.

"That thing's gotta be crawling with botulism," Annie whispered.

Before we sat, Annie's brother, Larry, proposed a toast. He'd drunk an excess of Walla Walla wine (supplied proudly by yours truly) while waiting for lunch. He lurched across the table to clink glasses with me. Our glasses shattered. All over the turkey.

"Grandma's good crystal," Annie whispered.

The silence was deafening.

"Kentucky Fried Chicken," PaPa bellowed, smiling. "Who's going with me?"

"Get a few cups of KFC gravy," Larry said.

"And some coleslaw," sister-in-law Vickie said. "I love their coleslaw."

"And some more rolls," brother-in-law Frank said. "We need more rolls."

Thanksgiving lunch was adjourned while PaPa and Frank went to KFC. Meanwhile, Grandma and Annie disposed of the turkey and both macaroni-and-cheese casseroles (which had suffered collateral damage).

Annie found me back in front of the TV watching the football game.

"Know what I'm thankful for?" Annie whispered.

"What?" I asked.

"Walla Walla wine. It just saved our lives."

If you'd like to read more of Sam's musings on life, visit his website at HYPERLINK "http://www.sammcleod.net" www.sammcleod.net, or better yet, buy a copy of his new book, BIG APPETITE.

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