Monday, October 28, 2013

Turkey Stories

The Backbone
by Travis Oltmann

Her robe is cinched tight and she is bleary eyed in the morning. Coffee, dark, hot, intermittent sips. Turkey out of the sink. Cellophane wrapping cut with a knife. She takes the bird and puts it in the roasting pan. It is slippery and awkward and the task is not made easier by her arthritic hands.

                The turkey gets moved out of the way and she fetches cookware from the cupboard and heats it on the stove. Bacon in the pan. While it’s sizzling she takes day old bread and chops it into workable cubes. Olive oil, sprinkle with parsley, bake, four hundred degrees. The bacon wakes her husband and he comes down to inspect in blue jeans and a striped maroon shirt he’s had since there was color in his hair.

                They kiss and smile. Another day of year forty-one.

                Her husband goes outside to see if there’s anything to fix or anything he can improve. There’s not, but he’ll find something. He’s the type of man renovators will curse centuries later.

                Bread is done. She pulls it from the oven. Chopped celery and onions in with the bacon. Her coffee is cold and she heats it in the microwave because she doesn’t have time to make a fresh pot. The turkey needs to go in. Guests are coming. 

                Her son comes down and eats a piece of bacon. Her other son comes down and eats a piece of bacon. Over the years she’s learned to fry a bit more than she needs.

                Bread in with the bacon as well as thyme, sage, and chicken stock. When it’s mixed properly she puts it in a bowl to cool and massages the turkey with butter. Upstairs to change.

                Upon returning her son asks if she needs a hand and she says she would love it if he could help stuff the turkey. She shows him how to clump the breading together and force it inside. He doesn’t like the feeling of the breading or the turkey’s nether regions so he sits on the couch and watches football with his brother.

                The turkey is in, she checks her watch and she’s right on schedule. Her coffee sits on the rotating table in the microwave and it has gotten cold again. She re-heats the cup and puts a pot on the stove to parboil a sack of potatoes. It simmers while she peels the skins with a paring knife. There’s a gadget in the drawer that would speed up the process but it hurts in her grip. Foreign, too. Not how she learned from her mother.

                Her husband comes in and asks the boys for hand lifting a sixty pound light fixture. The brothers complain and grumble as they’re taken away from football for twenty minutes.

                Dishes clutter the countertop now and she washes and dries them in the sink so she has space to work. The afternoon games are on and the announcers call plays from the living room where her sons drift in and out of consciousness.

                Extended family shows up, friends too. Her husband adds another section to the table and she’s working furiously in the kitchen to have everything ready. Butter and cream in the potatoes, mash. Salt and pepper. Turkey out, one last baste. Cranberry sauce on the stove, remove from the heat so it doesn’t melt the skin from anyone’s mouth.

                Although thanksgiving is relatively new in her lineage the basic recipes and preparations have traveled through many hands and many years to sit on an Albertan table. She was taught on the frigid, windswept plains of small town Saskatchewan. Her mother the same. Tracing it back further will lead to a long boat ride and optimistic peasants.

                Finally, after nine hours, bowls and platters and carafes cover more visible space than the red table cloth. Laughter and cutlery scraping plates fills the room.

                Everyone remarks how wonderful the food is. Afterwards with glasses of wine in beer in hand they retreat to the living room and catch up on each other’s lives.

                She listens to the stories of the people she’s known for her entire life or their entire life. Familiar and family bear such a close resemblance. She smiles to herself.

                Late at night her tipsy husband silently arranges the ingredients to a sandwich. It is dark and he decides to leave the lights off. What a racket her coffee cup makes when he pushes a plate of turkey into the microwave.

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