‘Where are those damn turkeys?!’
Those words were first spoken by Uncle Dan, an uncle I didn’t have the good fortune to meet as he passed away before The Professor and I were married – but I know I would have loved him because Uncle Dan liked to cook. The turkeys in question, are the turkeys pictured above; they were made by Dan’s older brother Jack, in shop class sometime around 1940. The turkeys were then painted by The Professor’s grandmother who proudly displayed them on the Thanksgiving table every single year until she passed them on to her daughter, The Professor’s mother and my mother-in-law . . . and we are now keepers of the damn turkeys because Thanksgiving is always at our house.
So how did they become known as ‘the damn turkeys?’ Well . . . the story goes that as an adult, Uncle Dan would return to Indiana for a Thanksgiving visit and because he loved to cook, would stay up all night preparing the meal. My mother-in-law says that the house smelled soooooo good when she got up in the morning – her brother would have turkey roasting in the oven, coffee brewed and some sort of sweet pastry purchased for the morning’s breakfast. My mother-in-law hosted Thanksgiving dinner for many, many years and the entire family would all gather at their house: grandmother, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings – always lots of laughter, lots of love and lots to eat. And every year, the turkeys would find their place of honor somewhere on the table . . . until one year . . . someone forgot to put them out . . . Uncle Dan looked around and said, ‘Where are those damn turkeys?!’
And that’s what they’ve been known as ever since.
I’ve always loved the story behind the damn turkeys and I’ve never forgotten to place them on our table at Thanksgiving. As I mentioned earlier, Uncle Dan passed away before The Professor and I were married but the oldest brother, the maker of said turkeys, is still living in California. I love that the tradition of the turkeys has survived 70 years – but what I love even more is that while we said goodbye to two of my mother-in-laws’ brothers last month, these brothers and the rest of her family, will always have a place with us during the holidays. (By the way, my mother-in-law is the little girl on the left in the black and white photo above – how cute is she?!)
We have always been, and continue to be, connected through the food we serve during times of gathering: weddings, Hanukkah, birthdays, Christmas, Seder Passover, Easter, summers at the lake, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving and a multitude of other celebrations. It’s why we serve the same recipes time and time again, year after year – because they connect us to generations before us, to family members who have passed, and to moments of our own history . . . and we carry on the tradition. And I love that my fabulous nieces and nephew start talking about Thanksgiving long before November arrives – wonder what stories they’ll tell?
Take a moment to look around you this coming Thursday – what are the recipes you’re sharing with your loved ones – you know, the recipes that show up on your table year after year? Are there plates, silverware, linens or other heirlooms that have been passed on from another generation? Do you have damn turkeys sitting on your table somewhere?
The Damn Turkeys have already been removed from their storage box to be placed on our table again this Thursday where we will gather, remembering the brother who made them, the grandmother who painted them and the brother who named them. And we will tell the story once again.
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She Got Out A Skillet – Orangette