By Joyce Laird
Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course.
~Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book
For years, our family Christmas feast has consisted of a standing rib roast with all the trimmings, paired with an abundance of side dishes and desserts. But it wasn't always that way. Before the Christmas of 1970, we served a big roast turkey on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Only the desserts changed — from pumpkin pie in November to mincemeat pie and Grandma's special butter rum cake in December.
The tradition changed that fateful Christmas in 1970 when the turkey was set out to brine. Grandma had always done this. Mom did this. So, I followed the tradition and did it. The sink was filled with cold, salted water and the bird was placed in it to soak.
The bird for that Christmas was a beauty — huge, almost thirty pounds. My father had paid a fortune to a local turkey farm to get us the biggest, best bird possible. It would be a true feast for all. The cookies, pies, cakes, and puddings had all been made. The candied yams were ready for the oven and the cranberry sauce was chilling in the refrigerator. All that was left was to brine the turkey a few hours, then pat it dry and refrigerate it while I made the stuffing to get it ready for an early morning oven. Due to its huge size, it needed to be rotated in the brine because it was too large to actually soak the whole bird at one time. The brine only came halfway up the body of the bird as it soaked, breast down in the sink.
I was just about to go in and turn the bird in the brine when a scream from the kitchen changed my plans entirely. My three girls came running out shrieking that the bird's ghost was there and the monster was going to get them! Their father and I ran into the kitchen to see that the "dead bird" soaking in the sink was hopping all over the place and splashing water everywhere.
My husband approached the bouncing bird with caution and made a grab for it. It slipped from his hands, as heavy as it was, and bounced onto the floor where it continued to do a jig across the tile.
The girls continued to scream while our two Collies started barking and jumping at the naked, dancing bird. I managed to push the dogs and now hysterical children back into the living room and held them at the doorway while their father continued to try to control the giant bird. Finally, it hit a corner between the sink and refrigerator and got wedged in. It continued to bounce up and down, breast side down, until finally something started poking through the back of the bird.
A smear of black appeared through a small hole near the spine of the fowl. Then a set of whiskers and a paw appeared. Our little cat Johnny had actually climbed into the open cavity of the bird and was happily chewing his way out. His little black and white head popped out through the hole in the back of the giant bird and he looked straight at us as he continued to gnaw off another chunk of raw turkey.
Of course, we could have removed the cat, washed the bird out (which was now stuffed with cat hair) and salvaged the dinner plans with none of the guests the wiser, but somehow, none of us wanted to eat turkey after that. I called my dad and told him what had happened. He made an emergency run to the local butcher and came over with two large standing rib roasts, enough to feed the crowd.
Thus began the new family tradition that my children now follow in their own homes with their own families. Johnny is long gone, but to this day, everyone who is still around to laugh about it remembers the day the turkey jumped out of the sink. And to this day, we still have turkey on Thanksgiving, but we always have roast beef on Christmas.