My most memorable Thanksgiving really only be came memorable the following spring. That may seem a bit exaggerated, but let me give you some background. I don’t know about every nook and cranny of the US but most places I’ve lived, turkeys have been a premium used to lure buyers of more costly products. Turkey is everywhere. There’s turkey loaf, and roast turkey, hot hat sandwiches, turkey ham (a personal favorite), turkey bacon (something the inconceivable Evers may appreciate), and turkey even finds its way into hotdogs and luncheon meats that have no business being poultry products. But none of those uses of turkey involve the anatomically intact bird.
Real intact turkey roasted for hours –with or without a stuffing– gets relegated to the the Thanksgiving and possibly Christmas holiday. The birds are slaughtered as much as two years prior and with the magic of cryonics kept below 0 deg. F until needed for the various meat-bird products aforementioned. That’s fine except that these turkeys really can’t take much longer in the vault of Mr. Freeze so they are raised a much more toasty 40 deg and put out there for shoppers to boggle over at under $2 per pound, “with a purchase of $25 or more, not combinable with other offers, and please remove it from our store before it begins to leak the rosy red effluvium of decay.”
In our family we love to take advantage of these cheap (ahem) birds. We buy large ones in excess of 20 pounds and serve turkey casserole, turkey sandwiches and “was there turkey in that surprise?” for the next week. My father loved his turkey so it was welcome. When I left the area to attend residential college it occurred to me that this wealth of bird-like substance could help with the plight of the poor student.
A friend of mine, I’ll call Chet, was renting a cottage just across the street from the school. It made life easy for him. He could roll out of bed and into class and be back to sleep before the warmth of his sheets had faded. Despite his habit of sleeping through lectures, Chet was an honor student. Some might even suggest he was Idiot Savant if it weren’t for his broad base of interests. But, while Chet was an avid fan of … well … eating, he was largely useless in the kitchen. His mother was a fan of fringe diets and fads, like using wheat gluten in place of meat. Chet had never learned how to cook anything more challenging than an MRE. For this reason he was feared and dreaded in the local Chinese buffets, a major feature of a town of 40k permanent residents with 4 universities, a tech school, a Bible school and a junior college.
I felt sorry for Chet. The buffets mostly barred him, his money was short and he’d exhausted the uses of macaroni and freeze-dried ramen. So I made The Suggestion. Remember, I was thinking what a great idea it would be to use the wealth of Thanksgiving Poultry for the betterment of Student-kind. So I called up Chet and while he was bemoaning a particularly unsatisfying meal of spaghetti and popcorn with not marinara, I said, “Why don’t you get a turkey.” It was rapidly approaching the season and they were there to be had.
“How can I afford a turkey? Their so big!” he replied.
“Yes,” I said smugly. “But they’re offered as premiums. Buy ‘X’ number of dollars worth of groceries and they give you a turkey for cheap. Sometimes free, or only five dollars.”
“But I can’t eat much turkey by myself.”
“No. But you can cut it up!”
Bear in mind, Chet was a fan of the Medieval RPGS. More than that he was involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Now this lot were serious about their dress up and role play, but they didn’t have even a moderator with polyhedral dice to limit their fantasies. They carried live steel reproductions of weapons, though somehow an awful lot of the falchions seemed to come from the lawn and garden center. Machetes are not just for breakfast anymore.
So while a bone saw and joint knives were not likely to be available to him, axes and large hacking weapons were. I was confident he would manage to defeat the fowl beast and rescue his cavitating belly. In a series of calls, I explained that he needed to cut the beast into quarters like a chicken. He could then place each quarter into a freezer bag and refreeze them before the carcass had warmed. He would then be able to thaw and roast one quarter each month. The plentiful left overs would carry him through until he could eat no more turkey, then he could repeat the process the following month.
Self satisfied I went back to analyzing the relative merits of Hawthorne and Mather. I visited Chet often that winter. We played cards, talked endlessly about fiction and music. Even compared plans for the future, (he is in avionic software design while I am hawking a book that hasn’t sold yet). But through it all there was a sort of funk that settled over his house. And by Funk I mean the horrible odor of an open grave.
Now I have a sensitive nose. When I was young and had all my taste buds, I could often unravel a recipe’ or guess what was being cooked, from odor alone. I would walk through the front door and rattle off the ingredients before sitting. But Chet had a less sensitive nose. Chet also did not bathe in winter. And I have to admit, it took a while before I was certain the odor was not him. It took a while longer to be certain what I was sensing wasn’t simply a strong sense of foreboding. When I assured myself it was rotting flesh, it took a while to broach the subject. (Daumer had been a news item not long prior)
Finally, I slipped and just blurted out that the house stank. Chet was dumb-struck. He wasn’t used to such blunt language and it shamed him (sorry). I soon realized that, he was NOT going to pull a cleaver from his back pocket and chase me about, wearing a hockey mask. But the question remained, “What was the odor? How had this happened?” Then, as he was stumbling through a half mumbled explanation, it finally dawned on me. I told Chet how to quarter a bird. I told him how to freeze it. I’d even given him cooking tips and he’d been eating it. What I hadn’t done was pedantically spell out what to do with the organs and neck.
Chet had been at a loss. I hadn’t told him to freeze them and he didn’t know if they were food, so he’d left them in the sink. When the odor got too bad, he’d put them in the garbage can under the sink, the one he never emptied. Finally, when the centimeter long maggots and other undesirables got to be too much for him, Chet cleaned house — by packing the garbage, maggots and other sundries into 10 gal. trash bags, which he then deposited on the rear porch of his house, having never hired a contractor to take his garbage away.
Coming from Long Island, NY where trash pickup was a city utility that was bundled into the water bill, he’d tried leaving the cans out a few weeks and finally gotten tired of having the dogs turn them over. Used to being ignored, he simply hauled the garbage back to his porch, intending to let his landlord take care of it when he vacated in the summer.
In the end, we were still remembering the leftovers of his Thanksgiving the following May. And hayfever was a blessing to all concerned. It all goes to show, you have to know your audience and remember to include the details they won’t get on their own.