The turkey burnt, the dressing tasted like vinegar, and the sweet potatoes had more salt than sweetness. It was the best Thanksgiving I had ever had, even if it caused me food poisoning. No, it wasn’t a coincidence, the whole family came down with it, after the meal.
It was the cook’s fault, it had to be. I know, I cooked it all. I was 35, and the closest I had ever been to the kitchen, was to fix a sandwich. Somehow, I got the idea that I could do this. What was a simple meal? This was doable, and I believed that, right up until we called the ambulance for Grandma.
There I was, a bachelor, set to attract the woman that I fell madly in love with, after working with her for two years. Two years of working side by side, and not knowing she ever existed. I’m throwing a lot at you, and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that I caused a traffic jam which delayed the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade for two hours.
My name is Mark Halloran, and this is the culinarily challenged’s guide to Thanksgiving. It all started November 1st, I had picked up two new coffees, cranberry vanilla lattes. Connie and I worked at a marketing firm, trying to generate interest in the latest fad.
I had never thought of Connie romantically. It wasn’t that she was unattractive, but it had just never occurred to me. One moment everything was the same, and then, suddenly she was talking about missing her family at thanksgiving.
By the time she got finished describing how much she missed her Georgia family, I wanted to cook for her. When she laughed at some joke I made about not burning down the kitchen, I wanted to date her. As she excused herself to call her Dad, I knew I was a goner.
It was something about the way she sipped her latte that told me there was a problem. She always had a smile on her face, but not today. This morning she quietly sipped her coffee, murmuring about how to sell stuff nobody wanted. Plus, she kept fiddling with her hair, bits of red twirling between her fingers.
“That’s a great attitude for a professional marketer. What’s up?” “Nothing, just didn’t sleep last night. I was up late talking to my Mom.” “Is she still in Sydney?” “Yeah, she loves what she’s doing, but hates missing Thanksgiving, it’s big for us.”
Connie, her four brothers and two sisters were all busy this year, as was her Mom and Dad. Her parents were both doctors, and they were dealing with special projects that had forced them to travel this year. Something was pulling the family away from their routine, and Connie was having a hard time coping.
“Why don’t you have Thanksgiving with us? I’ll cook, it’ll be great.” “You cook?” “How hard could it be, trust me, it’ll be great.” I was smiling my best smile, trying to hide their perspiration forming on my brow from this, now gorgeous red head.
How can you work beside someone for that long, and not realize you had wasted two years? I had to make up for it, so I browsed some online recipes. With every recipe, the panic was growing. What had I gotten myself into?
That evening, I faced my terror head on, figuring it was the best way to conquer it. I bought a turkey. I also bought cranberries, not the canned gelatin, but the real thing. I tried making corn bread. The aloe vera helped with the pain from the grease burn on my fingers.
By the end of the night, I was whimpering on the phone to my Uncle Everett. He was the best cook in the family, and my surrogate Dad. He handled it well, although several ‘coughs’ seemed to start with laughter.
The Halloran family is a little different. I was raised by my Mom, and her brother Everett. Dad left about two months before I was born, and we didn’t talk much about him. Grandma Sadie, my Mother’s Mom was an actress.
I think I got my interest in marketing from her. She was always trying to convince some casting director she was the perfect actress for a, b, or c. We were an odd combination, but we were close.
The four of us never missed a Thanksgiving at Lou’s diner. It was as much a tradition for our family as Connie’s Georgia homecoming was for her. I think it almost broke Lou’s heart when I broke the news to him. I insisted he join us, and he didn’t mind, right up until, well, you know.
I practiced with Uncle Everett, I tried by myself. I bought more turkeys that year than my quota, and the butcher started looking at me weird near the end. Each day, when I considered giving up, she would laugh.
Hazel eyes, a sweet smile, an infectious laugh, and the most beautiful face you ever saw, kept me going. I, on the other hand, was your average looking, green eyed, pudgy guy with glasses. The little me in my head kept saying she was out of our league. I believed him, but I didn’t care.
After trying for several days, I finally convinced her to join us. It started out okay, I got up early, about five. Preheated the oven, and started the turkey. For the first time since cranberry coffee day, I wasn’t worried. That feeling didn’t last long.
Contrary to what you might think, I didn’t get the sugar and the salt mixed up on the sweet potatoes. I measured everything precisely. My problem was that I picked up the wrong can of nuts for the topping. Instead of almonds, I had picked up salted peanuts, and decided to double the topping.
About then, Grandma Sadie called. “Mark, I need a favor before dinner. I’m up for this big part, and I need you to drive me downtown.” I said yes, but oh how I wished otherwise a few hours later.
Apparently, multi tasking is as much of a mistake as the experts say it is. That’s how the vinegar got into the corn bread. I can’t explain the garlic in the coleslaw.
A call to Lou, and he agreed to watch the oven. Grandma Sadie and I headed for her appointment. I’m a native New Yorker, most of my adult life has been on the subway. The only reason I drive at all, is because Grandma gave me her car when she couldn’t pilot herself, as she puts it.
I was a little distracted, that’s how I hit the ambulance, yes the ambulance. No one was inside, it was on stand by. I still say they were trying to run a red light. They said it was my fault.
The driver swerved, and hit a water main along the parade route. A float driver reacted to it. She turned it on it’s side, and sent a whole group of spectators rambling. That’s how I delayed the parade.
About four tickets later, we were home. The turkey was over cooked, dry, and rubbery. Fear of lack of time, made the classic novice mistake of not tasting anything. I had wanted everything to be perfect, by now, I was feeling defeated.
The little guy in my brain, and myself, were so filled with self pity, I ran out of time to even change. There I was, answering the door in a flour covered, stained sweatshirt, old black jeans, and scuffed tennis shoes. She was beautiful, dressed in a pink sweater, and pretty as a picture.
I let her in, ran to shower, and came back as quickly as I could. Grandma Sadie had her laughing about the time I lost the high school football game. Also over a girl, a cheerleader. I spent more time watching her, than playing the game.
Uncle Everett told her about the time I ran for student council, and lost. I’m not telling you all this to feel sorry for me. Each story made her laugh, and with that smile, I didn’t care if I was the but of the joke or not. The more she grinned, the better I felt about everything.
You might think they were trying to embarrass me, they weren’t. These were family stories, and that’s what I had asked them for. Connie was lonely, she missed her family, so I gave her mine.
Finally we sat down to the meal, and I was heartbroken. It was the absolute worse, but my family is true blue, and somehow, they ate most of it. I had to eat it, if I was going to force it on them, I had to suffer too.
She didn’t have too, it was bad enough to warrant any excuse. Connie didn’t make one, she cleaned her plate. It wasn’t an hour until we all loaded up on the way to the ER.
The Doctor said the primary cause of our discomfort, to put it mildly and delicately, was food poisoning. You’d think it was the turkey, but turns out, it was the can of green beans! The recipe called for frozen, I opted for quick, and now I hate my once favorite vegetable.
A small part of me felt vindicated, even if I couldn’t say it. Oh the meal was horrible, but at least it wasn’t completely my fault. If you ignore the fact that I bought the green beans.
Black Friday took on a whole new meaning. I was sure everybody in my family hated me that night, including Connie. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t stand myself by that point. Other than sending them all another apology text, I didn’t bother anyone that day.
By Saturday morning, it was safe to move again, though I skipped breakfast. Grandma, Uncle Everett, and Lou didn’t answer. Even Mom wasn’t taking my calls. I didn’t even try Connie, I wasn’t strong enough for the rejection.
Part of me said to get out of the house, to do something. The rest of me wanted to curl up into a ball and forget everything. I compromised, I made it to the couch. Every news item was about the parade disaster, that I also caused.
It was noon when the doorbell rang. I opened it to, ironically, a parade of people, led by Connie. Uncle Everett carried the turkey, and a bag of ice. Mom had the sweet potatoes, and the almonds.
Grandma Sadie had the rolls and the asparagus. Lou had two bags of assorted things, and a board game under his arm. No one brought green beans! Everything seemed fine, they just threatened me if I came near the kitchen.
Connie smiled at me. “You have got to be the worst cook, and the most accident proned man I’ve ever known.” “I know, I’m sorry. I just wanted you not to be lonely on Thanksgiving.”
“I know, and I’m glad, but please, don’t ever do it again. I can’t even describe the combination of grossness you concocted.” She kept talking, but I didn’t hear the rest. All I heard was, ‘you’re sweet, but no thanks.’
I came out of my daze to hear the last part. “You gave me a Thanksgiving, now I’m giving you one back. Hopefully minus the hospital stay.” I gave her my best fake happy face, and got through the afternoon, until dessert.
Had it not been for that custard pie, we probably would have went on working together. Things wouldn’t have changed. I would be miserable, loving her, and hating that I was only liked. That was until we all tried what looked like a perfect dessert.
I never said a word, not so much out of kindness, but for fear of lynching.You should have seen all their faces. Uncle Everett coughed, so did Mom. Lou faked a sneeze, into his napkin. Her face registered surprise, embarrassment, and sadness.
Grandma’s are synonymous with Thanksgiving, including the old song about the woods. That day, I knew why. Grandma Sadie put her hand on Connie’s.
“Dear, when I dated my Charles. On our first date, he tripped in the doorway. I laughed, and then I saw him. That proud man was horrified, and I had to act fast.”
“I tripped on the rug, on purpose, to show him, we were perfect for each other. I understand, although our Mark is a little slow. You two go talk, while we incinerate this dessert.”
Connie smiled, and headed for the patio. My first reaction was to freeze, until the family gave me a death stare. That meant, follow, and fast! She was facing away from me. “That wasn’t to make me feel better was it?”
“No, I grabbed the wrong jar of something.” She turned to me. “I appreciate your Grandma, but I wasn’t trying to rope you. I didn’t even think you were…” I stopped her. “You didn’t know? Why do you think I cooked that lethal weapon Thursday? It was for you, I…”
Then I lost my nerve, again. She laughed through tears. “We’re a mess aren’t we?” “I guess so. Maybe Grandma’s right, we need each other.” The two of us stayed out there an hour.
We talked about how we could work beside each other and not see each other. Neither one of us could figure it out, but it did teach us something. To never take each other for granted, to savor every minute, and to truly give thanks for each other daily.
We got ready to go back inside, but not before she made one last playful joke about my cooking. I responded by taking her hand, and our first kiss followed. Much later in time, engagement, marriage, and three kids happened. Thanksgiving meals also got a lot better, and I’m still not allowed in the kitchen in November.
That’s ok, I turned out to be a pretty good cook. You see you take a love sick bachelor, add a horrible meal, a loving family, and you end up with a beautiful girl. So I consider myself the best chef in the world, just no green beans.