By Sohan S. Koonar
It was noon, a little late to do anything about it except to inspect it for any more deficiencies. None came up. All seemed normal. It smelt good. All the turning, the twisting and the emptying of the cavity, the expected streak of bloody fluid, were normal.
I placed it on the baking dish, this one a prised possession. At that moment the wife walked in and as is her habit, repeated some of my already performed tasks. Coming to the problem, she pronounced, “It’s missing a wing.”
To join her is not to oppose her. I learned this many moons ago. “It is,” I state in my purposely flattened tone, “kind of late to fix it.”
“Fix it!” she hisses, and begins stomping around.
“It’s missing a wing,” I offer.
“Boy,” she says sitting down. “You can’t trust anyone these days. ‘ButterUp’! It’s a name brand, you would think.” She lets it drift; her disappointment in the processed foods industry now beginning to invade our kitchen, her realm.
“We best get it in the oven,” I suggest and before she can protest, stuff the coarsely chopped onions and garlic along with the herb bundle into the cavity. The oven is already steady at 350 degrees. I pop it open and set the roasting tray in strategically so that the winged-side faces the oven window. I turn on the oven light and set the clocks.
“None of the kids?” my wife asks.
“They are still snoring in their rooms,” I answer, “Can’t you hear them?”
“Oh, it’s so nice to have my whole family in the house.” She falls into my arms, we smooch a while and then separate as steps are heard coming down the stairs. It is our eldest. And it is an important day for him. It is the first time he has invited a girl to join us for Thanksgiving. She is one of his classmates in university and is arriving from the county. He pokes his head into the kitchen. His mother rushes over to smother him, sit him down and proffer him his favourite cereal.
I look at him. He’s four inches taller. Heavier. A deeper voice and more command in his demeanour. That pleases me. It took some doing to get his grandfather’s permission to invite a girl to a family function. My wife musses his hair, grinning and he protests, vainly. I want to join in. I decide to wait my turn on the younger two.
Ours is a big family. The extended family now spreads from India and Italy to Canada of course and tentacles out to Switzerland, Germany, France, England. Down under to Australia. To Africa in Tanzania where I grew up, spent most of my childhood, Kenya and Uganda. Few left there but they still show up here and there, every so often, at weddings and engagements. Some are in Trinidad, Venezuela, the United States, but most are in Canada, mostly in Toronto and the GTA. The kids scattered over the country at various universities and colleges. We like getting together at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, the lakesides and at Caribana in the summer.
Our family includes a lot of characters with unique characteristics and some will grace our table today.
The fifteen year old princess drifts in as does the sophomore at Western Ontario. The five of us, the core of our little clan spend an hour in the kitchen, talking, teasing and interacting. We relish this time together in an ever decreasing frequency. Well at least we, the parents do. The fragrance from the oven wafts the kitchen. “So let’s divide some tasks,” encouraged, my wife starts and then watches the kitchen empty in seconds. Standard excuses are given, “Gotta wash, forgot my blah, blah” and so on. We look at each other, smile and shrug. She, the quintessential queen of the casa, begins laying out the menu plan and I take out the utensils, the carving knives and cutting board, the colanders and the condiments. She takes out the primary ingredients, counts, collates and distributes them into the many utensils. The corn goes into the corning ware container, the pre-cut vegetables into the salted and water-filled boiling pots.
The doorbell rings.
Daughter rushes to answer. She opens the door to her grandparents, clinging to them as they struggle to get out of their shoes and jackets. My mother hands the tray of samosas to her daughter-in-law and lets her granddaughter drag them into the kitchen. Now let me make clear. Ours is one of the largest homes in the area: the kitchen and dinette once accommodated thirty. So we can have a small army over and feed it. For our clan it has been a place to boast about, show off and indulge in. Almost six thousand square feet finished will do that. And every day I bless the architect for his floor planning and the builder for putting in the best and most indestructible materials. For us it is the best investment ever made.
As the clan drifted in and the making of the dinner progressed, the din level rose, as well as the excitement meter. The wine and beer began to flow. The hors d’oeuvres appeared only to disappear.
The doorbell rang a final time. The eldest, followed by a herd of cousins and kin, rushed forth to greet the most anticipated guest.
She was a sight in long blond tresses, a symmetrical and open face, luminous blue eyes, a flawless complexion and a shy smile. Just what the gathered Indo-Italian-Hispanics appreciate. Grandfather was the first to greet and welcome her, the irascible senior; grandma gave a nod of proud approval and the eldest lost her in a swarm of admiring and enquiring relatives. I was introduced, greeted her and rushed to the oven to get the baked turkey out.
I placed the exquisitely baked bird on the counter to rest for the requisite half hour before carving it. A few moments later, while toasting a scotch and soda with Cochise, my brother-in-law, I heard the dreaded cry.
“It is a one-winged turkey!”
I rushed into the kitchen and my daughter was staring hypnotically at the golden bird. “Daddy,” she whined, “you cooked a handicapped turkey.”
“What?” Grandpa muscled in to stare at the object of everyone’s attention as everyone was now crowding the kitchen.
“The turkey is blessed,” intoned Cochise. We called him that because he was our Grey Owl, the wannabe Native. He attended powwows, collected dream-catchers, purified with sweet grasses, and adopted the culture, performing aboriginal rituals.
“How can you say that?” the daughter asked still in the flared nostril stage, her cousins crowding closer to the turkey.
It sat on the rack in the roasting pan; the right side sporting a perfectly basted and baked wing, the left just the golden sheen of an immaculate breast. I could see the deformity. It had been born without a left wing. There was no denying the daughter’s entreaties. I felt silly. Standing there as the host. I was supposed to feed a gang of about thirty hungry thanks-givers now diverted by the oddity of the missing wing. The accompaniments permeated their aromas.
“It is a ButterUp,” My wife offers lamely.
“No guarantee of quality,” intones my government employee brother-in-law.
“You could sue them,” suggests a helpful nephew.
“I will not eat it,” states the daughter.
“Why not?” asks her mother.
“How can I be giving thanks while munching on a handicapped turkey, mum?”
“Hold it, hold it right there!”
Cochise, my much loved and respected for his ways bother-in-law, is now much aggrieved and staring at my daughter. She lowers her gaze. Cochise walks over to her and says, “Listen honey, the bird gave her life for us.”
“How?” asks my daughter, who I am convinced will be a lawyer or journalist one day.
“It is fate,” intones Cochise gently. “As I said we are very lucky today to dine on a one-winged turkey. It is a day of blessing for us.”
“How, uncle?” insists the girl.
“Honey,” he holds her hands in his. “Look at it. It could have graced any home. But your father unknowingly bought it because it wanted to be bought by him. It wanted to honour his home, this family.”
“I still won’t eat it,” continues my daughter.
“Then you will be insulting it,” Cochise whispers, loud enough for all to hear.
“I can’t eat a handicapped turkey,” she moans.
Cochise picks up the carving knife, intones a prayer, deftly carves the turkey and lays out the fourteen pound sliced bird on a huge platter. The crowd begins to form a line around the island on which is arrayed the goodies and the dishes.
I look at my daughter, still distraught as her uncle approaches her. She is watching her brother and his date with the blond tresses.
“You guys going to eat?” she queries. “Not the turkey, I hope?”
The young lady looks directly at my agitated daughter. “Sure.”
“You guys are disgusting,” announces my daughter.
“Are we?” responds the main guest. “My father is a turkey farmer.”
And with that the long line quickly forms for the turkey dinner.