In 2005, I wrote a Thanksgiving column about the time my mother was given a frozen turkey by her employer.

The column described how my mother, not much of a cook, wasn’t sure what to do with the bird. On her bookshelf, I found a cookbook (not much used) that described a slow-cook method of preparing a turkey. The method consisted of baking the bird 14 hours at 200 degrees.

Today, people are cautioned against the extended low-temp method. Meat needs to get up to 190 degrees to kill all the microscopic critters that might otherwise kill you. The low-temp method means the turkey takes longer to heat, increasing the risk of harmful bacteria growth and the production of toxins that may not be destroyed.

Teenage me, unaware of the dangers, set the oven for 200 degrees and camped out on the kitchen floor next to the stove. I used a wind-up alarm clock so I’d be sure to wake every few hours and ladle turkey juices onto the bird’s body, as per the cookbook’s instructions. Each time, I woke up just before the alarm was due to ring.

In the morning, mom, sleep in her eyes, came into the kitchen to see how things were going.

“All done,” I said, setting the twelve-pound bird, still in its roasting pan, on our kitchen table.


Despite modern misgivings, the turkey didn’t kill us. The meat, thoroughly cooked and extremely tender, fell off the bones and seemed to melt in our mouths.

We had no potatoes, no peas, no carrots, no cranberry sauce, no rolls, none of the traditional Thanksgiving Day dishes. All we had was a huge, well-done turkey, and some store-bought white bread.

My mother and I were not close. We were too much alike and too strong willed to get along. She was who she was. And I, a teenage jerk, couldn’t know how much I’d later regret not being kinder and more understanding.

Mom died in the 1970s, before I married. She never met my wife nor saw my five children. She never got to sit around with us at Thanksgiving, enjoying conversations and comedy and countless requests to pass this or that.

She never got to taste my mother-in-law’s famous pies. She never got to witness my oldest son’s ability to eat his weight in mashed potatoes. Or how some of the kids liked tiny onions boiled in milk and some didn’t.

I picture her sitting with us, enjoying her progeny. I imagine my son saying, “Grandma, pass the potatoes, please,” and her rolling her eyes at his bottomless appetite.

I envision my wife offering her some tiny boiled onions and mom either taking or not taking them.

And I can hear my mother and I telling everyone about the time we sat at a small table in our small apartment, our fingers too greasy for either of us to read. And cautioning everyone not to slow-cook a turkey, while testifying how delicious it was.

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