I adore the holidays. I love tradition and have all the best intentions of making the NEXT season the most memorable one for family and friends, and then—well, it’s suddenly time to put the turkey in the oven.
Unscripted holidays with their blunders and gaffes seem to make the best memories anyway. People may not notice (or care) that I forgot to put out the cranberry sauce or turn on the holiday music, but no one ever forgets the botches.
The tradition of holiday faux pas started early for me, at my first Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone was seated at the wonderfully adorned table and Tom Turkey was placed before my father-in-law, who had a carving knife at the ready. We all joined hands and bowed our heads to give thanks for the meal. A moment later, my father-in-law quickly passed something under the table to me. I grabbed this weird-feeling damp paper bag and peered down to the find the package of giblets that I had accidentally cooked inside the bird. We grinned at each other and that remained our little secret until he left this Earth, as far as I know.
Then there was the year I decided to switch up Thanksgiving turkey as the main headliner. I thought I would cook each person their very own individual stuffed Cornish hen. Little did I know that 7 and 10-year-olds would find that so traumatizing. They stood anxiously in front of the huge tightly foiled baking pans for the big reveal. When my daughter lifted the foil, they all jumped back in horror. My youngest granddaughter wailed: “What is that? A baby turkey?”
Well, the macaroni and cheese pie was good.
Fast-forward to Christmas a few years later. I’d made a countertop full of pies: chocolate meringue, apple, pumpkin and even a cheesecake. My camera and extra batteries were sitting nearby on top of the microwave. Later when I wanted to take some pictures, I couldn’t find the batteries anywhere.
After dinner, the family started heading to the dessert counter. My son-in-law came over to me and asked, “Ma, when did chocolate meringue pie start requiring batteries?” as he pushed the AA Duracell to the edge of his plate. I guess they’d rolled off the microwave and into the pie, covering themselves back up in the thick meringue. Well, that was one kicking chocolate pie!
There was the hundred-dollar oyster stuffing. My husband, Don, makes the best stuffing and the most expensive dish at our Thanksgiving meal. One year, we had a huge Pyrex glass baking dish full of the delicacy ready to go first thing Thanksgiving morning. It was so heavy, I could barely lift it out of the fridge to put into the oven. I set the timer and turned on some tunes, feeling really festive and reflective as I put together the meal. The timer went off, I took the dressing out of the oven and placed it on hot pads on the countertop and walked a few steps out of the kitchen.
I looked down at a little piece of glass in my arm. Kids came running from the bedroom, and Don rounded the corner to discover oyster stuffing on the walls and on the floor, as we tried to keep Snowy (our cat) from taking advantage of carpet breakfast. With Pyrex glass shards all over the kitchen, Don and I spent a good 20 minutes cleaning up. Finally, I pulled the garbage can up to the counter to toss the dressing but Don intervened.
“Oh, heck no! I’m saving that!” he said. “Don, we can’t eat this. There’s probably glass in it,” I explained.
Like a combustion expert, he proceeded to explain: “No, the glass exploded out, not in. I’ll just throw the edges out and save the middle.”
He was the only one who ate the stuffing that year, and no intestinal tears have been reported as of yet.
Some of those faux pas became annual traditions, like the jam pass off. Thirty years ago, a friend gave me and another friend some homemade apple butter and it was awful. My friend and I inconspicuously re-wrapped and re-gifted it for years between us. We reminisced recently that we don’t know what became of that apple butter, but the laughter is still there. Whether it’s apple butter or fruitcakes used for doorstops, we all have those not-so-perfect holiday memories, don’t we?
Yes, I’m grateful for the ghosts of Christmas Past, the memories of kids with mullets or super-sprayed high hair, the kid who made a peace sign in the family picture, the dog being fed by a toddler under the table, and so many more. In some ways, I’m glad the instant world of smart phones wasn’t around for the majority of our holidays. Instead, they are left to memory for retelling. There’s no Photoshopping or skinsmoothing in the old memory bank. It’s just there, the good stuff and the true stuff, right alongside the perfect Christmas photo.