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Saturday, November 21, 2015

First Turkey, 1964

The first turkey I ever cooked myself was in the year of 1964. I was a young married, an ex- student, as was my husband. We were living in a dismal basement apartment in NYC, with a front window whose view was the back of the building’s garbage cans. Needless to say, we kept the blinds closed. We shared a bathroom with some elder ladies who we never saw, but who, no matter how loudly I scrubbed the tub after using it, would come in as soon as I’d left and wash the entire bathroom all over again. I suppose I can’t blame them, for lots of poor people in the city lived in fear of all manner of dangerous unknowns.

We’d managed to buy the turkey, a small one, although it took some financial planning to get the cash together, as I didn’t have a job. Only my husband, Chris, did.  As a nineteen year old with zero skills, as expected, that didn’t pay much and rent took most of that. As for me, I’d left the hospital I’d been working in back in Philadelphia and come to NYC in order to be with him. Plus, I was violently morning sick—to the 9th degree. I mean, Rosemary, in “Rosemary’s Baby,” had nothing on me. The only things I could reliably keep down were weird cravings: green pea soup, white bread, grapefruit and sardines. Anything else—upchuck! Maybe that’s why the invisible ladies next door were so diligent about scrubbing our shared bathroom.

On the big day we cleaned up our turkey as I’d seen my parents do, slapped it in a big bakeware pan that we’d found in the kitchen, turned the oven to 350 and then walked over to Broadway to see a little of the Thanksgiving Day parade. We were so far uptown that there wasn’t much to see, but there were bands and high school kids from out of town feeling really proud of themselves, and people wrestling with a couple of balloons—my favorite, Dino the dinosaur—being dragged about in the gusty wind. The other big event for me was seeing Fess Parker of Davy Crocket fame, waving and smiling from the back of an open car. Like a zillion children from my generation, he’d been my hero back in the fourth grade.  I’d wept while watching the Walt Disney show the night “Davy” died at the Alamo.



Now that child’s life seemed incredibly distant. Chris and I looked at each other. We were married, pregnant and close to broke. Whether one or either of us would ever get back to college—and how the heck we would manage it--was still up in the air. Nobody's parents were happy. With all this drama swirling through our minds, the parade, so very pointedly an event for little kids, got old fast.  


We turned and walked back through the wind, weak November sun, and grimy uptown streets to our little pad. When we got there, the place was redolent with roast turkey and baked potatoes. The bird made snapping noises as the juice splattered about inside the oven, casting a kind of smoky pall around the kitchen. We decided that this must mean it was cooked. Chris fetched it out, and lo and behold, it was done, all crispy, juices running clear.  I was a little surprised that I was, for the first time in months and all of a sudden—genuinely hungry. It was quite a fine meal, our first Thanksgiving—meat, potatoes, squishy store bread and a freshly opened can of cranberry sauce. Who knew I’d be remembering it fifty-one years later?

~~Juliet Waldron
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