The Bird

Thanksgiving 1979 found me in living in on my own in Marshalltown, Iowa and working at KDAO radio. I was going to be working on Thanksgiving, but what was cool was that my friend Rick Hunter was going to be joining me, on his holiday break journey home to Colorado from chefcollege life in Minnesota.

An actual guest! A real opportunity to make a full-fledged Thanksgiving!  A couple of cookbooks supplemented with phone calls home to mom in Denver to help iron out some nuances and I was ready. I was nineteen and knew my way around a kitchen, having worked in a professional one for most of my high school years.

O.K., I was a dishwasher. Still, I picked up more than a few tricks-of-the-trade.

With Rick scheduled to arrive sometime Wednesday, I thought I could get a lot of stuff done on Tuesday. Mom had confirmed my planning, but she also added a key point: thawing the bird. My initial plan was to pick up the turkey on Wednesday and be ready to go, but mom cautioned that thawing was a time-consuming process, that should start on Tuesday at the latest.

The bird.

As a Thanksgiving gift from the radio station, every staff member got a fifteen dollar gift certificate to the local Fareway store, and a gift certificate for a free, ‘up-to- twenty-pound’ frozen turkey.

Perfect.

The gift certificate covered the bulk of the non-poultry essentials: cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, and gravy. Marshmallows, a box of instant mashed potatoes, a pumpkin pie, an apple pie, a package of a dozen (big) bakery chocolate chip cookies. Rolls, a jar of olives, a jar of pickles, a bag of Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing and a pound of Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage so I could duplicate my mom’s fabulous sausage stuffing rounded out the grocerieslist.

We also needed appetizers: cheese, sausage and crackers.  Just like mom would do it at home.  I also picked up a bulbous turkey baster, a six-pack of Coca-Cola, and a disposable aluminum turkey roaster. Fifteen bucks went a lot farther in 1979 than it does today. My out-of-pocket was less than three bucks.

Oh yeah. The bird.

Getting a free turkey was a big deal. Small market radio was not lucrative. Plus, popping into a store with a gift certificate from the radio station was a sign of small town prestige and celebrity. The dang things were a full sheet of parchment, like a stock certificate. People at the store knew who you were.

The key phrase here was  ‘up-to-20 lbs.’ This, of course, meant I could have chosen pretty much any turkey, but in my 20-year-old mind, the gift certificate screamed, ‘Free twenty pound turkey’.

Never look a gift bird in the mouth.

I picked out a prime, nineteen pound, ten-ounce bird; the twenty pounders all gone by the time I showed up at the store Tuesday afternoon. Arriving home as pleased hunter-gatherer, my next turkeyraw1order of business was to get that rock-solid bird thawed.

Dilemma one.

My apartment was on the third floor of an old bread factory where the former executive offices had been made into apartments. The rooms were spacious, with high ceilings, funky old moldings, and big water and steam pipes snaking their way through the place. But in redeveloping, they furnished the kitchen like an efficiency apartment; the gas stove was one of those old, narrow jobs with burners so close together, that if you were cooking more than one stove-top item at a time, you could only use small saucepans and angle the handles oddly so they would stay on the stove. The single compartment porcelain-sink-on-legs was so small the plastic dish drainer I got when I first moved in barely fit in it.

Where to thaw a 19-10 bird?

The refrigerator was small and filled with other stuff. I had a cheap, Styrofoam cooler the turkey dwarfed – that left the bathtub. What they had skimped on in the kitchen, they made up for in the bathroom: a Chester-Arthur-sized, cast iron, claw foot tub with single spigot that took roughly 20 minutes to fill to take a bath in. Or to get enough water to cover a twenty pound turkey to thaw.

Dilemma solved, provided I didn’t need to bathe.

The bird bobbed placidly in the filled tub, though I periodically had to refresh the water level. The rubber drain stopper was cracked and not very efficient, and the large, cast iron radiator next to the tub accelerated evaporation.

I called mom to update her on my progress to date, commenting about the hassle of filling the tub to thaw the bird.

“Couldn’t you just put it in the refrigerator or a cooler?” she asked quizzically.

“Nope” I replied, “It wouldn’t fit.” There was a pause.

“Well, how big is the turkey?” I told her about my free, nineteen-pound, ten-ounce bird. There turkeyraw1ewas another pause.

“What the hell are you doing with a twenty pound turkey!?” I knew that tone of exasperation.

“It’s what the station gave me.”

“For two people!? I thought it was a gift certificate. Couldn’t you pick out your own turkey!?”

“Yeah, I did. It was a gift certificate for a twenty pound turkey – so that’s what I got.”

“Oh, Mark!” She was trying to be cross. She was snickering (sort of) as I heard her turn away from the phone and exasperated, tell my father, “Mark has a twenty pound turkey for he and Rick.”

I heard my father reply dryly, “I hope they like turkey sandwiches.”

My mother then calmly tried to explain to me that even for the six guests she was expecting on Thursday, she did not have a twenty-pound bird, and that I had better make sure I had plenty of aluminum foil to wrap leftovers in.

foil(Extra foil had not been on my shopping list. I ended up needing two full large rolls of Reynolds Wrap.)

Wednesday arrived, as did Rick. The bird continued to bob and thaw.

My Thursday plan was to wake up early enough to get the turkey in the oven, prep whatever else I could, get to the station for my 10-to-2 shift, come home, watch some football and hang with Rick, and feast.

Getting the turkey in the oven was the biggest issue.

As noted, my oven was narrow. I plucked the bird from the tub, and began prepping it by cleaning it, taking out the gizzards, buttering it, seasoning it, stuffing it, etcetera, without incident. Rick awoke, joined me in the kitchen, observed the scenario and said, matter-of-factly, “Is that thing going to fit?”

Well, wasn’t that spatial.

The turkey didn’t fit – at least not at first shove. Fortunately, I had a disposable aluminum roaster and the sides were pliable enough to be bent on both sides, plus get scrunched up against the back of the stove. It took some extended shoving and pan bending, but we got the bird into the oven without getting ourselves burned.

That oven was wall-to-wall turkey.

A good turkey needs to get its moisture regularly, and I had devised a plan that would benefit everyone: the ‘KDAO Bird Watch.’

JackLaLanneEvery twenty minutes on-air I would announce “It’s KDAO Bird Watch time!” and remind people that it was time to ‘baste those birds’ – leading them through the process ala Jack LaLane with the mantra, “And baste, one…two…three! Baste! One…two…three…” as I then smoothly segued into the next record. Sometimes we basted on the beat of the music.

(It was a public service and programming success to the extent that, much to the bewilderment of Paul, the guy on after me got phone calls of complaint when he failed to announce the bird watch every twenty minutes, and he was also later blamed by some listeners for dried out birds.)

It was one fine, juicy turkey we indulged in that afternoon….save for the leather-tough burns on the outside of each drumstick, where they had spent their roasting time shoved up against the walls of the oven.

We ate, watched football, called high school friends in Colorado, ate some more. On Friday, Rick hit the road for Colorado with a load of turkey sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and I can’t remember what else. If memory serves, he took the offered sandwiches grudgingly, as he appeared to be turkeyed out. Me? I had no such qualms…until about mid-December.

turkeydoneTo this day, I enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers almost more than the initial meal.

Mom was right about the foil, dad the sandwiches. Every last nook and cranny of my meager freezer was stuffed with turkey (pun intended) and the last frozen pack made its way out for freezer-burned consumption on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, 1980.

My best advice for a successful Thanksgiving feast? It’s pretty simple, kids: “Baste! One…two…three! Baste! One…two…three…””

Advertisements

Firsts and Foremosts

Quite an eventful week around the ol’ Lucker Hacienda.

The excitement began last Saturday evening with the arrival in New Orleans of grandson Felix, all the way from Minnesota – with his mom and dad in tow, of course. Saturday also happened to be the lad’s first birthday, though his arrival was more a gift for us as we hadn’t seen him (save our periodic Skype sessions) since last Christmas.

Suffice to say, he has grown up quite a bit.

Now an active, verbal-and-at-times-forcefully-so toddler, Master Felix has an engaging smile and personality – and energy to burn. After a two-day car jaunt, Felix was in pretty good spirits, but was a little apprehensive about these grandpa/grandma folks. But after a good night’s rest and a little more familiarity, he readily came to his grandpa – for short stints. By Sunday evening he was eagerly hanging with grandpa and/or grandma. Uncles Will and Sam, too.

On Monday, mom and dad headed out to do some sightseeing in the French Quarter, leaving Felix in our care. Utilizing a nifty all-terrain stroller borrowed from friends, we (Felix, me, Grandma Amy, Uncle Sam) took a two-mile walk, picking up Sadie from the groomers before heading back home.

This greatly pleased Felix, as he and Sadie had become best buds almost immediately upon his arrival. Seeing roughly eye-to-eye, Felix and Sadie made an immediate connection and decided that each was pretty cool. Sadie (a.k.a ‘The Big Floppy Dog’) is a very easy going, 61 pound-canine who loves attention. When that attentiveness comes from a one year old who likes to hug, tug and pat on her back with both hands – all the better, apparently.  Aside from the fact that Sadie is a licker who loves to go for the human face at every opportunity and that Felix attempts to reciprocate, the bonding of boy and dog has been a real joy. My favorite sight is when Sadie is

“Belly up to the Sadie bar, boys”.

just standing there, and Felix walks up and puts both his hands on Sadie’s back and they both just stand there. I call it Felix’s belly-up-to-the-(canine)-bar pose

The far less laid-back (energetic still at 10.5 years) Lucy the rat terrier has also been the beneficiary of Felix’s affections, but she doesn’t sit still long enough to partake much – though she does show her jealous side when Sadie is getting allllll the attention. No matter Lucy’s flightiness, the ‘Big Fwoppy Dog’ follows and flops with Felix on an ongoing basis.

It’s not just fun time for Felix here in New Orleans.

When announcing plans for their Thanksgiving/birthday jaunt to see us some months ago, I pseudo-sternly informed daughter Lindsay, “Now if you think you guys can just blow into town, leave Felix with us and go off gallivanting around New Orleans on your own…you’re absolutely correct”!

And they have done some of that from time to time (a shopping trip here, a lunch date there) but not without some slight separation anxiety which has been easily overcome by responding to mom-texts with a curt ‘O.K.’ or ‘We’re fine’.

Hey, this may be our first grandchild, but this aint our first rodeo, as they say.

A few weeks before Felix and family were set to arrive some friends of ours who have a ‘weekend getaway’ condo (‘Condeaux’ in the local vernacular) in the French Quarter graciously offered it to us for them to use for a night or two during their stay. The place is small but incredibly charming (think antiquated, 150-plus year old building with old brick and adobe, gaslights in a courtyard charm and then quadruple it) and apparently the old slave quarters of the original home, but is now a fine mix of old world magic and modern amenities.

I informed Lindsay of our friend’s gracious offer a week before their trip, and she was excited for the opportunity, duly noting that it would be their first full night away from Felix, and hoping/warning that we were/should be ready for whatever that might bring.

We got this.

Their stay was set for Tuesday night, and we would drop them off and get them settled so as not to have to worry about parking or other logistical issues. A nice deal for all concerned…but there was a twist to the plan.

On Sunday Brad accompanied me as I drove to pick up the borrowed stroller, and the conversation quickly took a uniquely curious turn, as Brad informed me he was going to propose to Lindsay, and asked for my quasi ‘approval’, which was immediately and gladly given. He then went on to tell me how this had been in the offing for a while, and that hearing Lindsay tell of the condo-in-the-Quarter opportunity just made the plans all come together.

Serendipitous, it was.

So the simple evening get away turned into something much more (successfully, I might add; she did say ‘yes’) for all concerned. A memorable and romantic evening in the Quarter for Lindsay and Brad, a fun and mostly uneventful night for Felix alone with grandpa and grandma. A visit to see the Christmas lights on nearby Harrison Avenue followed by a trip to Creole Creamery for some yummy small-batch ice cream: caramel apple pie for Felix and I and grandma’s red velvet cake that he also got to partake.

To our friends the Petersons, as they say in the theatre, “Thanks for the use of the hall”.

An interesting sidebar: when going to pick up Lindsay and Brad at the condeaux  I had to park around the corner. While walking to their door, I noticed one of New Orleans ubiquitous bronze plaque historical markers (the city is older than the country, remember) on a neighboring building. Stopping to read it as I usually do, I found that the home there was owned by Tennessee Williams. As Lindsay and Brad are both theatre buffs, and as Lindsay once played Stella in a production of Streetcar Named Desire, the discovery added a nice finishing touch to the whole affair.

More than serendipitous, I think.

This has been a week of a lot of firsts with Felix: first stroller walk, first Christmas lights, first ice cream, first overnight stay with grandpa and grandma. We have also had quiet just-Felix-and-grandpa time early morning; have a little breakfast, drink some coffee, cruise the Internet. Just us. Felix also got his first Tonka truck this week – the big dump truck. A little overkill, I’ll admit…but a boy’s first Tonka truck should be a good one. A big one. From grandpa and grandma.

And much to my great enjoyment we shared grandpa’s traditional Thanksgiving morning breakfast: coffee (milk for Felix) and a steaming bowl of freshly made sausage turkey stuffing (don’t worry – there is plenty left to cram in the bird). I’m sure there are more firsts to come as his week here winds down.

So now here we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, and it’s Will’s seventeenth birthday, to boot. And Will provided us with a milestone of the non-Felix variety yesterday when he drove the family to Winn-Dixie for our pre-Thanksgiving shopping trip, his first trip as a permitted driver. Seventeen Thanksgivings ago we were hospital bound with the month-premature Willi Newman Lucker; now a goatee-clad driver of the family grocery-getter.

Plenty of thankfulness to go around.

For family. For Will, for Sam, for Felix, Lindsay and Brad. For my wife Amy. For friends and family. For mom, who celebrated ten years of being cancer-free this year. For difficult but gratifying employment. For good friends. I could go on.

In the Lucker household, the day has little to do with football or ‘black Friday’ sale plans. Except that maybe Felix and I can do some of our first football watching. After he gets a crack at his first turkey drumstick, after we find his first wishbone…

Thankfulness in abundance.