In this election year, chances are better than ever that someone sitting near me at the Thanksgiving table will disagree violently with my political views. If Native Americans were willing to eat turkey with English immigrants, maybe I should be willing to overlook my sister’s penchant for conspiracy theories so we can all enjoy the pumpkin pie in peace.
In my husband’s family, the Thanksgiving of 1968 was a year of atypical intergenerational hostilities. In other words, they yelled at each other. The war in Vietnam had splintered many American families along political lines, fortunately at his family’s get-together televised football along with excellent turkey helped distract the combatants.
In the early 1980’s my sister, Judith, came home at Thanksgiving and announced she was a vegetarian, a scene repeated all over the country, as college-age people discovered that in order to eat meat, it was necessary to kill animals. Convinced that her decision not to eat bird was an implicit criticism of our family’s way of life, a rejection of tradition, and an attention-getting ploy, my father decreed there would be no tofurkey at his table. The roast on the dining table was a paternalistic cudgel wielded to remind my sister of the sanctity of tradition.
One way to keep peace at Thanksgiving is to involve troublemakers in a project. Deep-frying the bird, which requires a lot of people to help, works well. Only a fool would attempt to fry a turkey anywhere near the house, and yet every year scores of Americans immolate their garages on Thanksgiving. (Underwriter’s Laboratory, refers to turkey fryers as “vertical flame throwers.”)
According to my friend, Jennifer, keeping an eye on the turkey fryer kept her Texas relatives positively engaged during their annual Thanksgiving festivities in San Antonio; it takes a village to keep the little ones out of the backyard while the fryer is in operation.
Another strategy for diffusing interpersonal tensions at Thanksgiving — introduce a side dish so provocative that people who don’t like each other bond in outrage. That’s why Marilyn Monroe’s Stuffing recipe made an appearance at our Thanksgiving in 2010, an elaborate recipe that includes sourdough bread, liver, raisins, three kinds of nuts, chopped eggs and parmesan cheese, or at least one ingredient to alarm everyone. Although it came from the kitchen of a beloved celebrity not previously known for her cooking prowess, those brave enough to try it had a delicious lesson in setting aside prejudice.
I have resolved not to let differences of opinion with my family and friends ruin Thanksgiving, but I can’t promise peace with the animal kingdom. The increase in Shelter Island’s wild turkey population has been so dramatic over the past few years, that the birds have crossed the line from charming reminder of our precious rural lifestyle to a ravening, pea-headed plague of backyards and parking lots. I have seen a turkey chase a man back into his car.
When I ride my bicycle around a flock of turkeys they do not yield for me, even if I sound my little bell. I recently rode past a dozen of them perched on a fence on Manhanset Road, and I swear I heard one of them say, “You hold her down, I’ll peck around her ears.”
If one of those turkeys goes missing, check my oven.