A Thanksgiving Story


I admit my dinners are the butt of family jokes. But I’m proud to say I learned a life lesson from one of the greatest culinary events, Thanksgiving.
My first Thanksgiving as a grownup was in Manhattan. I invited my seven roommates to join me for a home-cooked turkey dinner. That morning I pulled two twenty-pound turkeys from the freezer and phoned my mother, an excellent cook. “Okay Mom,” I said, “What do I do with them?”
My mother, though hundreds of miles away, had immediate impact. “They’re frozen?!” she exclaimed. (She yelled but ‘exclaim’ is so much nicer, isn’t it?”)
I spent Thanksgiving looking for a supermarket that sold cooked turkeys. It never occurred to me there weren’t any until I didn’t find one. I settled for several deep fried chickens from Times Square.
Now my roommates weren’t the most agreeable bunch. We lived in a rambling Upper Westside apartment. The woman whose name was on the rent-controlled lease had been dead for years. We pretended she was alive and her daughter, who lived in California and collected our rent, made a tidy profit from the eight of us. I lived in the maid’s quarters behind the kitchen.
Blaine, slightly thinner than a skeleton, lived in the parlor and worked as an usher at Carnegie Hall. I was told he was a brilliant artist who had received many fellowships but had sworn off paint. He never touched a drop while I was there.
Next to his room lived Philip, a composer whose claim to fame was his girlfriend’s famous and tragically deceased cousin. I recognized her name and knew the story of her yes, tragic, death. I once helped Philip move a grand piano into his room from another floor in the building. He was eternally grateful for a week.
Eric, a writer, lived in the library with a phenomenal view of the Hudson. He had a less phenomenal view of me. I didn’t take it personally. He was a bitter man. He had invented alternative endings in novels but other writers were stealing his invention and making more money. The end.
Another inventor, Bona Fide Wiz, lived at the end of the hallway. A decade before the Internet was commonplace, BFW did something spectacular with a computer and eventually sold out for millions. I didn’t know him when he was rich. When I knew him he was just a hairy guy who never talked or bathed and lived like a hermit at the far end of the apartment.
Several of my roommates were alcoholics. The one on the wagon was an actor. He was so talented the most prestigious talent agency had signed him. Unfortunately he had been drunk or hung over during so many performances that his agent no longer sent him on auditions. Instead the agency sent him to their filing room where he worked full-time. Two other alcoholics lived together in the dining room. In their sixties, they left the city every day to wait tables at a famous restaurant on Long Island. Being from Maine, I’d never heard of it.
Long before Thanksgiving, my roommates had grown annoyed with me. I allowed friends to stay in the maid’s quarters with me indefinitely while they looked for a place to live. Indefinitely, because the vacancy rate for Manhattan was less than one percent. To make it up to my roommates I invited them to Thanksgiving dinner. How much more they hated me when they saw the deep-fried imposters on the table. It was better than frozen turkey, wasn’t it?
Thanksgiving tasted better at my mother’s house. But it was sad watching my brothers deal with the turkey after my parents divorced. My father, who owned grocery stores, started his career as a butcher. His performance at the Thanksgiving table had been artful. He truly carved a turkey. Try as my younger brothers did, they truly butchered it. Watching them was a painful reminder that my father wasn’t home and never would be again.
After I married David, a psychiatrist and the son of a psychiatrist, Thanksgiving took on new meaning. At least the tail end of the turkey took on a new name. “Who wants the Pope’s Nose?” asked David’s father.
Although the doctor and I were self-proclaimed agnostics, I had been raised Catholic. (The church lost me when I was seven, and a nun, enormous with authority, informed me that animals couldn’t get into Heaven when they died because they had no souls. I didn’t wonder if she might be right. I knew she was wrong. Had she never looked into the soulful eyes of a dog or a horse or a cow? I had, though I couldn’t vouch for crustaceans, birds or reptiles. But if a nun, who was married to God, was wrong about animals having souls, then perhaps she was wrong about the existence of Heaven.)
David’s father must have seen my startled expression as he sliced off the tail and motioned for me to take the coveted prize. “Wasn’t it the Pope’s Nose in your family?” he asked.
“No,” I said, suddenly catholic. “My family didn’t test God’s sense of humor -- in an effort to avoid being struck down dead.”
Years later, I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the second time. My second husband, our toddlers, and I had moved from Manhattan to New Jersey three weeks before. Although we were not yet unpacked from the move, I was ready with a thawed-out turkey when relatives arrived from all over the East coast for Thanksgiving dinner. Surrounded by older women who were expert cooks, I washed the turkey, filled it with stuffing and stuffed it into the oven. Hours later according to the clock, it was time to take the turkey out, so I did. Before bringing the turkey to the table, I brought out a heaping bowl of stuffing.
As I headed back to the kitchen, I heard Aunt Lizzie already seated apologize. She said she needed to start eating because of her Low Blood Sugar. In the kitchen, everyone understood without a word that my turkey had to pass muster before making its debut. My mother tugged at a turkey leg. I imagined she had a similar assurance when she’d lived in New Jersey decades earlier and had used those same hands to deliver milk to the poorest neighborhoods of Paterson and then had delivered babies in the same city. I watched the milk lady turned obstetrical nurse turned mother struggle with the turkey leg until it came loose. She saw red not even pink, but red.
“Did you turn the oven off when you took out the turkey?” asked my sister noticing the oven was off. She owned a restaurant and was an excellent cook like every other woman standing in the kitchen except me. I said I hadn’t turned the oven off.
“Who turned it off?”
“Did you turn it off?”
“When did you notice it was off?”
Something was off all right. Was it sabotage or senility? Our spoken and unspoken questions filled up the spaces between us.
Suddenly my mother spoke, enormous with authority. “Your oven is broken.”
By this time, news of the undercooked turkey had seeped into the dining room. Aunt Lizzie’s face turned a peculiar shade of purple as we took her pink plate away. After consuming a healthy portion of the unhealthy stuffing, she was convinced food poisoning and possibly death were imminent. We left her to stew and concerned ourselves with the turkey. My brothers butchered it and I zapped it in the microwave in parts. It reminded me of Chinese Hacked Chicken. Without further ado, the grace was said, and dinner was begun. Soon Aunt Lizzie moaned that the turkey tasted fine.
A much earlier Thanksgiving with my first husband changed my life. David and I were invited to a lavish potluck turkey dinner at the home of a very successful illustrator, a friend of a friend. I was seated next to him, and he asked what I did for a living. “I write and draw comic books for children,” I replied.
He cut to the bottom line. “How much do they pay you?”
“Twenty-five dollars a page,” I said. I liked my work, and I was very happy to talk about it.
“You give them plot, dialogue and a storyboard? How long does it take to draw a page?” he asked.
“Seven hours. The story I’m working on now takes place in a costume museum,” I explained. “Each costume is historically accurate.”
He gave me a hard look. “Why do you let that company exploit you?”
I was speechless. How was I exploited? I wondered. I didn’t wear high heels and a tight skirt to keep my job. No one asked me to make coffee. On the contrary, I was grateful. This company published my stories. What more could I want? Still, his questions disturbed me.
A few days after Thanksgiving, I called another comic book writer. I wanted to know if I was paid so pathetically little because I was being exploited or because I was pathetically slow. “Yes, we are being exploited,” she said. “And yes, you are slow.” Then she shared her timesaving technique with me. “Draw simple.”
“How simple?” I asked.
“Stick figures. They’re paying us to be writers not artists.”
So I took a page out of her comic book. A full-figured character became a stick figure. A close up of a face became a circle with two dots for eyes. A city skyline became a squiggly line. I went further. I got a raise because I asked for one. A divorce from my husband came next.
Over the years, Thanksgiving has served as an education. For the people around me, it merely confirmed that I am a lousy cook. However, it taught me that no one should allow a turkey to define who she is. By turkey I mean a holiday entrée, an unloving husband, or a company that gobbles up talent. But I’m still unclear about a turkey’s soul. After all, most of the Thanksgiving dinners I’ve attended began with a prayer. It is at that moment that I wonder if there is in fact a Heaven and if so, will we find our turkey brethren at the gate?

what a wonderful writier you are!!! this is a great story ....thanks so much for starting my day this way...................

I agree. I loved reading it.

this saga could inspire a movie!!! I loved it!!! maybe an addendum from THIS year will be written!
Have a lovely Thanksgiving! Wolfy

That was a great story. Please relate another one.

Thanks everyone. It's so nice to get your feedback. I finished a 200 page novel for kids on Friday. It's an audio book, and it's free. If you whisper me your email address, I'll send the link for downloading it. You may also share it with anyone you like. I believe it would be a nice holiday gift for some kids (and I'm hoping adults like it too). It was narrated by a wonderful friend who lives in Maplewood. He's a great pro and was the voice of the History Channel. The number of people who live in Maplewood and helped me produce this audio book, Tyger Lilly, is astonishing. Extraordinary generosity. It's been wonderful. I also want non-profits that benefit children and/or animals to feel free to have it on their websites in order to let people download it. That way they could use it to solicit donations. But they won't the able to charge for it. Anyway, for the time being it's free, and I would be thrilled to share it with you.

lisat, nice writing...nicely done revelations...whats the targeted age bracket for the audiobook?

So far children ages 7 - 15 have liked it, but it's targeted to 9 to 13. Adults have liked it, too. It's about an 11 year-old girl, Lilly, who must decide whether to stand up to the bullies or continue to 'disappear.' It also deals with Lilly potentially losing her home at auction and Lilly suspecting the town pet store of engaging in illegal activities. The style is magical realism. As serious as the subject matter is at times, it is still funny. Like life.

This is a great story.... what a great story teller you are.

Thank you, Geralyn.


Great reading--thanks so much for sharing. Publish it somewhere. Better yet, do it as a graphic novel.

For MOLers who didn't read it last year, or want to read it again (hard to believe but maybe?)...

Whisper me if you want a MP3 CD of my tyger lilly audio book. It's free.

love love love your story! i'd love a copy of tyger lilly!

I'll see that you get it, more-than-jta.

lisat, thanks so much for sharing it again this year. I read it for the first time today and loved every word of it. This should be published for more people to enjoy. Keep writing!

Like exceptional Thanksgiving leftovers, I enjoyed it even more the second time I read it this year.

I still see it as a neat graphic novella, especially with your graphic skills. Your voice sound Maus-ish.

Hope you have a disastrous Thanksgiving this year so you can have more material to add to this!

Thanks, mfpark. We may have a disastrous Thanksgiving, but not because I'm cooking.

Oy vey! Starting to sound like a Shakespeare comedy--everyone shows up at the same time.

Sorry that your family is so rivven, though. That cannot be fun. Families can be really mean on holidays--gives them a lot of leverage to hurt each other.

On our end, Wednesday nights are when my stepkids stay with their dad, per the divorce agreement. And Thanksgiving Thursday their dad always seems to manage to feed them a HUGE brunch right before they come back to our house for Thanksgiving dinner, so they don't eat our dinner. Lovely.

Thanks zet and jta. Jta, if you whisper your address, I'll either drop it off or mail it to you.

mfpark-a thought...how about having your Thanksgiving dinner later in the day...so that they might be hungry by then?

lisat-loved reading the story again!!!

Posted By: bgsmfpark-a thought...how about having your Thanksgiving dinner later in the day...so that they might be hungry by then?

lisat-loved reading the story again!!!

bgs--it's what we settled on a few years back when it became clear that he was never going to change his behaviour.

Nice tale(s). Very well written. Often, I appreciate that more than the subject matter.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Loved reading it, lisat. Happy Thanksgiving!
Would love to get a copy of your audio book.

Great story, Lisat! Thanks for sharing and a Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Thought I would share this again this year. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. question

Loved it!!! you are such a talented writer....
Happy Thanksgiving...

In order to add a comment – you must Join this community – Click here to do so.

Sponsored Business

Find Business


Advertise here!