My childhood Thanksgivings were always well-intentioned, but we never seemed to get the hang of it.
The prize for “Most Awkward Thanksgiving” went to the year we travelled to the somber home of my cousin Paula, a stern and utterly humorless woman who ironically owned a party supply store.
In keeping with her profession, Paula operated under the belief that if you followed the instructions on any party theme kit, a good time would be had by all, so she broke out the deluxe paper pilgrim wall decorations and accordion-fold tabletop turkeys, handed out prepackaged favors to the kids, and instructed us to play quietly.
Paula’s house was an endless source of confusion and fascination for me. Her family was undeniably devout — they would pray over their food until it was stone cold — but I’d never seen anyone made so seemingly miserable by their own religious beliefs. I often tried to picture Paula at work, proselytizing to anyone foolish enough to come in seeking paper streamers. I really hope she sold balloons better than she sold Evangelicalism.
My Old Fashioned Thanksgiving would not fall victim to any of that nonsense. My guest list and menu would be carefully planned, and nobody would be allowed to bring accordion-fold decorations or attempt to convert guests to their chosen religion. We would all be healed by the power of turkey and pumpkin pie, and our house would become a home.
At the time, my cousin Nelson still lived with us. Nelson is known for his meat — it’s what God put him on this Earth to do. If it once roamed the earth, Nelson can braise it to perfection for all to enjoy.
Two days before Thanksgiving, Nelson came home with the largest turkey I’d ever seen. He dumped it in the kitchen sink in a cold-water bath, where it remained until the night before Thanksgiving. He promised to rise at five the next day, and prepare a glorious bird.
On Thanksgiving morning, I awoke at nine to that elephantine gobbler still sitting in my sink, and Nelson passed out in his room near a monument of beer cans. I rolled up my sleeves and schlepped the waterlogged 22-pound Butterball into a roasting pan.
It was still very, very frozen. I grew concerned. Guests would be arriving at noon. So I threw the bird into a trash bag and tossed it into the front seat of my car.
The two of us drove to Kroger, where I purchased a pre-cooked turkey.
Then, I drove around to the back of Kroger, located a dumpster, and swung the bag with all my might, letting it fly.
But I’d forgotten to tie the bag closed.
The turkey, freed from its Hefty bag constraints, struck the side of the dumpster with a satisfying smack, landing in the parking lot. I ran over and grabbed it by the legs, swung again, and was successful in my second attempt.
I went home, made the switch, and popped the bird in the oven. When all was said and done, everyone was very complimentary.
The pre-cooked bird is now a tradition in our home. Let’s just be honest: Nobody really wants turkey anyway. They want all the stuff that comes with it. We load up on mashed potatoes and make no apologies. Because it’s our house, our traditions.
And I’m mighty thankful for it.
Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at topherpayne.com.