Southwords

Bucket o’ Wings

What happens in the bathtub stays in the bathtub

By Beth MacDonald

Having been a military family for so long, we’ve often been away from our families at Thanksgiving. Apart from the obvious inconveniences, we were thus spared the torture of what should be a day of familial gratitude devolving into one of competition, tears and regrettable comments. That is, until my husband, Mason, now retired, suggested we schlep our blended, extended family to my parents’ home for a holiday feast. I initially said no. Mason was convinced this was a good idea as much as Arthur Carlson was convinced that turkeys could fly in WKRP in Cincinnati.

The great thing about Mason is that he is forgetful. I can throw away things that clutter up the house that he doesn’t even know he misses. Sometimes he’ll ask for them three years later. I’ll pretend they are around somewhere. This time he had conveniently forgotten my family is mostly made up of “well-meaning” people. You know the sort.

My sister lives as far north as she could stand to go without needing an Eskimo passport, while I chose to live in the loveliest part of the South. The epicenter of chaos is Pennsylvania, home of my mother, a generally clinical and, not to put too kind a face on it, harsh woman. When I was a senior in high school and told her I had been accepted into an Ivy League school, her response was, “You should probably just stick with community college.” I haven’t heard my father speak since 1972. He is capable, he just doesn’t. My brother is a bit of a genius, but he speaks like Napoleon Dynamite. I never hear what he’s actually saying. All I hear is what I think he would say, which is never what he does say.

My mother isn’t known for her culinary abilities. My sister, an excellent cook, thought it would be a great idea for us to brine an organic, ethically bred, farm fresh turkey and bring it with us. I was not about to drive 10 hours with a sloshing bird in my trunk, nor was I inclined to spend however long it would take to find a turkey with just the right CV. Thinking we were smarter than we are, we decided to make the trip up, stop at a hotel, and brine the bird there. We equipped ourselves with a 5-gallon bucket from the hardware store, a frozen grocery store turkey and the gourmet brine my sister sent that came with very specific directions, which we immediately threw out.

We filled the hotel bathtub with water and brine, dumped the turkey in, and let it sit overnight. The next day we looked at the scene we created like it was from a TV crime show drama and we’re standing over the deceased with the murder weapon in our hands. Oh, my God, what have we done? We left the housekeeper a note of apology and the kind of tip that would pay for her kid’s college textbooks. We put the bird in the bucket and left the hotel, going down in the elevator and through the lobby looking like we had three-day old bait fish in a covered pail. Our mission: convince the assembled dinner guests that a bathroom-brined Butterball was, in reality, a gourmet high-class fowl.

Two gin and tonics into dinner my eyes glazed over and a courageous indifference took hold. My mother was comparing my sister and brother. My sister was pointing out my mother’s faults, my in-laws looked extremely uncomfortable, and I finally noticed there were strangers at the table. Mason’s regret set in.

Everyone did agree on one thing. The turkey was amazing. Mason’s terror was palpable. Knowing that gin is the equivalent of truth serum, he squeezed my hand a bit too firmly as if to say, “Don’t!” I started laughing into my napkin. Mason grew more alarmed. My sister looked at me suspiciously.

“What have you done?”

You could see Mason’s mind doing complex calculations.

“We changed the brine,” he blurted.

“Well it worked! I love it.” It was my mute father, piling more turkey on his plate, his decades of silence broken by a bird. I looked at him, stunned.

That, however, didn’t faze my sister. Like Nancy Drew, she wanted answers. What was the secret ingredient?

Mason leaned over his plate, “I could tell you, but I’d have to take you to this hotel where I know a maid who can keep a secret.”  PS

Beth MacDonald is a Southern Pines suburban misadventurer who likes to make words up. She loves to travel with her family and read everything she can.

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